Andrea Bocelli’s stunning Amazing Grace and four other things that lifted our spirits

The Italian opera singer’s Music for Hope concert from Milan soothed fevered souls across the world

Italy has suffered untold tragedy during the coronavirus crisis, and it will take a lot of healing before the scars begin to fade. If any one voice can soothe the fevered soul of a country in mourning, it is that of Andrea Bocelli. On Easter Sunday, Bocelli performed a special Music for Hope concert in the empty Duomo cathedral in Milan, at the invitation of the city at the heart of the country's hardest-hit northern region.

“I believe in the strength of praying together; I believe in the Christian Easter, a universal symbol of rebirth that everyone – whether they are believers or not – truly needs right now,” said Bocelli. “Thanks to music, streamed live, bringing together millions of clasped hands everywhere in the world, we will hug this wounded Earth’s pulsing heart.”

Bocelli performed a selection of uplifting hymns, including Panis Angelicus and Ave Maria, watched live by three million people, on the altar of the beautiful cathedral. But the biggest moment of magic was when Bocelli walked purposefully out on to the steps of the cathedral and performed a stunning version of John Newton’s Amazing Grace, while aerial drone footage showed near-empty capital cities including London, Paris and New York. By the time he ended, there was not a dry eye on the internet.

Bocelli has also started a fundraising campaign to help purchase vital equipment to protect medical staff at the frontline of the fight against Covid-19. Donations can be pledged at


Meanwhile, on Saturday night, Irish people were invited to light a candle in their window as part of the worldwide Shine Your Light event in solidarity with health staff and other frontline workers who are risking all to help people struck down by coronavirus. President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina lit dozens of lanterns outside Aras an Uachtaráin, and on RTÉ television, Sinead O’Connor, looking beatific in white robes, gave a superb rendition of the Snow Patrol hit Run. #ShineYourLight.

Window blessing

Arrays of Easter eggs; teddy bear tableaux; flower arrangements and bunches of bunnies: these are some of the ways people have decorated their front windows in the Portobello area of Dublin, in response to a local competition to create the most cheerful window display.

“The idea is that because we can’t change our scenery within our 2ks, the scenery can change and our walks are more interesting,” says secondary school teacher and Portobello resident Emer Byrne, one of the judges in this very impromptu contest.

She and her small children Faolán and Réiltín took The Irish Times on a tour of some of the most imaginative window decorations in their neighbourhood.

“What I’m looking for is something that makes me smile, that you can see has brought joy to the people who put it there,” says Byrne. “It’s really about spreading a little bit of fun and happiness.”

She and her fellow judges are planning to present a prize of some sort to the winner of the competition: a rosette, perhaps or a plaque to commemorate this extraordinary time in Irish history.

Life in lockdown with two small kids has been a challenge, says Byrne - but it has brought some unexpected benefits.

“I’m more connected with the community than I’ve ever been in the nine years I’m living here,” she says. “We always complain that the time passes quickly when the kids are small - well, it’s not passing now. We’ll get through it, and we’ll knock a bit of craic out of it along the way.”

Hear their song

We may not be able to meet up with friends and relatives during this time of cocooning and self-isolation, but we now have a chance to get to know some very close neighbours – the birds in our garden.

Blackbirds, blue tits, wrens, chaffinches and robins - they’re all there just outside your window, with a display of colour to raise your spirits, and a song to lift your heart. And if you’re lucky, you might spot a goldfinch, a woodpecker, a sparrow hawk or even a heron. Paddy Woodworth gives a handy guide to getting familiar with the flying creatures that turn a garden into a living, breathing, peaceful space.

Set up some seed or nut feeders to attract more birds to your garden, and visit Birdwatch Ireland to find out more about how to identify different species.

Station to station

We've tried out lots of radio apps, with varying degrees of success, but this take on global radio is intriguing. RadioGarden is like Google Earth for radio. It's simply a map of the earth, filled with little green dots, each one denoting a local radio station. Click on any dot around the globe, and you're instantly in tune with what the locals are listening to on their wirelesses. Take a trip around the world, stopping off at random stations in far-flung regions – you'll be amazed how the dots all join up.

Dish of the day: Guinness and beef pie

The coronavirus crisis has seen many with opposing viewpoints coming together in common cause, and it's no different in the world of food. Today we witness two Irish staples – Guinness and beef – joining forces to create the perfect pie. The recipe comes courtesy of Gareth Mullens, head chef at the Marker Hotel, who gets his kids to help with cooking up this hearty family dinner.

If you are looking to get the taste buds warmed up, why not have a go at our new Food & Drink quiz. Some of the tasty questions include which Italian city gave us carbonara and where did Irish Times cookery columnist Paul Flynn work before he opened his Tannery restaurant in Dungarvan, Co Waterford.