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Irish songstress Mary Black.

As reported two weeks ago, Hôtel de la Paix had announced that the Irish singer Mary Black was coming to town, sparking off a delighted series of mental jigs and reels among Siem Reap’s small Irish community, and anyone else with the good taste to have heard of her.

Mary Black is an Irish legend; a folk singer with a global following who’s pure, yearning voice has been a part of Irish lives for almost 30 years.   

A woman of substance, not to be compared with the mortifying Ronan Keating who played in Cambodia four years ago, she was to come and quietly hand over some cheques to the founder of local NGO Green Gecko at a special evening at the Hôtel de la Paix on Thursday March 24.

The cheques, for $30,000, were the result of a unique fundraising concert and auction held in Singapore two weeks previously, headlined by Mary Black.

And although it was uncertain whether Black would actually perform while in Siem Reap, we were certain we’d be able to twist her arm.

So it was a brutal disappointment and an ironic twist when the news came crashing in that Black had fallen at another fundraiser in Australia and broken her arm in several places, meaning she couldn’t come here after all.

But the organisers said “play on” and the evening at the Hôtel de la Paix went ahead.  

All of this was the culmination of two years of plotting by Christian de Boer, sales director at de la Paix, and his friend Joe Eades, who lives in Singapore.  The pair cooked up a plan to help the Green Gecko and what came about was the night in Singapore, an evening that took everyone by surprise.  

With the help of a friend, they were able to secure the participation of Black.

Then, the Irish Ambassador made his residence available for the evening at which almost 300 invited guests showed up. The auction included paintings by the Green Gecko kids themselves and a bronze sculpture by Siem Reap artist Sasha Constable that brought in $6500 for the charity.   

Two weeks later in Siem Reap at the Hôtel de la Paix, a smaller invited crowd gathered.  The news had already broken that Black wouldn’t be there. Instead, guests were treated to a bokator performance by the children from Green Gecko, who are already receiving national awards for their skills in this ancient martial art. Then de Boer produced the cheques from the auction and from local businesses who’d donated – the size of the amount was a further surprise for Tania Palmer, the founder of Green Gecko.

And then, the grand finale: A group of Irish musicians who’ve played with Black in the past – Liam Mac Gabhann, Rohan Young and Terry O’Neill – ripped into a trad session that tore a hole in the hearts of the Irish listeners and sucked everyone else into its spirited vortex. The Gecko kids, who rarely get the chance to be part of the audience, were intrigued.  

The music session moved on to Molly Malone’s, and in true Irish style went on into the silly hours of the morning.

Mary Black has promised to come back, and de Boer and Eades have no doubts this will happen.

Said de Boer: “She’s a lady with a golden heart.”


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