The John McCormack Society


NEWSLETTER No 2, Autumn 1999

Articles in this issue

Words from the Chair

Saving the McCormack Heritage

Welcoming the McCormack Diaspora

New Man in the Chair

Athlone Man to Sponsor McCormack Bursary

Commuting across a Tenor

On Stage in Wexford

Dairy Dates



It gives me great pleasure to tell you that our first newsletter has been an outstanding success. We have had very many favourable comments about it Ita Hackett, Marie Tully and John Allen deserve our sincere congratulations for producing it. We hope that the newsletters will continue to be of interest to all.

     I know that many of you have happy memories of events during the early years of the Society that you might like to share with us. These would be of particular interest to newer members, so I invite you to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, and send your stories to the Hon. Secretary for inclusion in the next issue.

     It is heartening to see new members at the monthly recitals. If you know of anybody who would like to join, why not bring them along to one of this season's recitals and let them see for themselves how interesting and enjoyable our sessions are.

     Talking of which, I must thank our Patron, John Count McCormack, for continuing to welcome us at the QV2 and for the refreshments provided after each recital. My thanks, too, to my predecessor Donal McNally for all the work he did during his three years in the chair. It's a hard act to follow, but I'll do my best. And, of course, thanks to Marie Tully for her outstanding work as Hon. Secretary and to all the Committee members who help with the running of the Society.

    Apart from the list of forthcoming events listed on page X, we hope to revive the annual dinner which was once part of the Society's regular activities. This will give everyone an opportunity to get together and relax over a meal and perhaps enjoy a song or two from fellow members.

     A special word of thanks to Athloneman Frank Grennan who has generously undertaken to sponsor the McCormack Bursary for the next three years; and to Gus Smith, who enhanced our outing to Wexford by arranging a visit to the lovely Theatre Royal, home of Wexford Festival Opera, where he played some of McCormack's finest operatic recordings and then led us on a spirited tour of other places of interest in the town.

     I send greetings to our members all over Ireland and to those in Britain and North America. And we wish continued good health to our President Liam Breen.

     Finally, I would like to quote a verse from F. Kilmurray's poem to John McCormack which appeared in the January 1964 Society Bulletin:

Immortal Tenor! You can claim
   That beauty which to life you lent.
         The waxen discs that show your fame
                Are now your fitting monument.
      Dermot McDevitt

SAVING THE MCCORMACK HERITAGE   The John McCormack Society of Ireland is about to embark on a major exercise aimed at setting up a permanent McCormack Archive in this country.
The Society already has a considerable amount of valuable archival material in the form of newspaper and magazine articles, concert and opera programmes, photographs, books and records and so on. Much of this material has been donated by generous overseas friends like Fred Grundy, John Ward, John Scally and others. And we have been promised further memorabilia when there is a proper home in which to house it and make it available to researchers and others interested in the career of Ireland's greatest ever singer.
All of this material is or has been the property of serious McCormack collectors. But there are many individuals who have maybe one or two items that they might consider donating to the Archive. If any member has anything they are willing to let us have, or if they know of any non-member who might be approached, please advise Marie Tully (phone 01-458 0846) or any member of the committee.

Welcoming the McCormack Diaspora
Marie Tully reports on a memorable international weekend

John McCormack aficionados from far and wide gathered in Dublin last September to commemorate the fifty-third anniversary of his death. The weekend was the brainchild of then Chairman Donal McNally, who joined our Patron, John Count McCormack, in welcoming visitors from Britain and North America as well as various parts of Ireland at an opening get-together on the Friday evening.

Neil Corning, from Massachusetts, outside 'Glena', McCormack's last home.

Amongst the special guests attending were: Fred Grundy from London; John Ward from Manchester; Neil and Susan Corning from Massachusetts; Mel O'Flynn and Harry Smith from Athlone; Padraic O'Hara from Ballina; founder member Seamus Keams; opera-lover and theatre supremo Tony 6 Dalaig; and, of course, Colum, Oliver and Elizabeth O'Brien. Missing from the party were John and Jean Scally from Scotland - whose reason for not being there are still being dined out on - and our Hon President Liam Breen, who sadly was too ill to attend. Many of the guests shared their McCormack-related memories with us and Fred Grundy presented the Society with a number of valuable, and currently out-of-print McCormack biographies and discographies.

On the Saturday members of the committee escorted the visitors to Aras an Uachtarain in the Phoenix Park, and then on a tour of the Jameson Whiskey Heritage Centre. After lunch the party went to the museum in Killmainham Gaol, and the day was rounded out by a visit to the Abbey Theatre. Sunday was a long day. Early in the morning John Allen, Neil Corning and Louis Browne were on Anna Livia's "World of Music" radio programme talking with presenter Bill Drakeford about the events of the special McCormack weekend and about Neil's activities in Boston. Then it was over to St Mary's Pro-Cathedral for the anniversary Mass, which was attended by members of the McCormack family. Patricia Kelly, daughter of the late Gwen McCormack, and Donal McNally read the lessons; the gifts were presented by Tim and Maeve Carroll; and the Mass was sung by the Palestrina Choir, with Louis Browne contributing Franck's "Panis Angelicus". In the afternoon, we were privileged to be welcomed into "Glena", the former home of John and Lily McCormack in Booterstown. Very few changes have been made to the house, and the little oratory added by John is still in use. Then it was on to John's last resting place in Deansgrange for graveside prayers and the laying of a wreath. Sunday evening found us in the historical Oak Room at the Mansion House for the annual Bursary Concert. In the first part of the evening, tenor Karl Scully and soprano Michele Sheridan, respective winners of last year's McCormack and Burke-Sheridan Cups at the Feis Ceoil, gave a joint recital in which they were accompanied by Jennie Reddin and Mairead Hurley. After refreshments with the Lord Mayor, Senator Joe Doyle, the entertainment continued courtesy of songs and anecdotes from Louis Browne and pianist Patrick Healy, with occasional help from the enthusiastic audience.

On Monday, John Ward and Fred Grundy were taken by a group of intrepid committee members on a lightening tour of places associated with John McCormack. We visited both of John's Monasterevin homes; Tochar House, now a thriving B&B, and Moore Abbey, which nowadays serves as home to hundreds of people with special needs. At the Abbey, Dermot McDevitt treated us to a rendition of "Marie My Girl" while Sr Barbara and Tony Finlay played on John's Steinway grand. In Athlone, we called at the Library, housed in the erstwhile Fr Matthew Hall, concert venue for John and Lily McCormack in 1903, where we met Librarian Gearoid O'Brien, author of the currently out-of-print book John McCormack and Athlone. Back in Dublin, the weekend finished with John Allen's record recital at the QV2 and a friendly glass of wine, courtesy of the ever hospitable John Count McCormack.

                                    AT MOORE ABBEY: British guests John Ward and Fred
                                    Grundy are back row left and right respectively.
                                     Chairman Dermot McDevitt is at front right.


NEW MAN IN THE CHAIR Dermot McDevitt, who was elected Chairman at the AGM earlier this year, is no stranger to high office in the John McCormack Society of Ireland. He has been a member for over twenty years and served as Hon Secretary for five of them. Like all of us, Dermot is an avid fan of our Great Irish Tenor. Unlike most of us, however, his singing activity isn't confined to listening. He is, as we well know, a fine baritone who is always ready to burst into song whenever requested, be it at party time, on our travels, or in church at the Annual Mass.



Frank Grennan of Athlone has generously undertaken to sponsor the John McCormack Bursary for the next three years. This yeras winners are: Soprano Tanya Sewell, winner of the 1999 Margaret Burke-Sheridan Cup; tenor Des Flahive, winner of the John McCormack Cup; and 13-years-old Debbie Tighe, a pupil of Elizabeth O'Brien, who came first out of 70 competitors in this year's Girls'Vocal Under 14 Competition. All three will sing at the Annual Bursary Concert at the Mansion House in Dawson Street, Dublin, which this year moves from its traditional Sunday slot to Friday 17 September at 8 pm.

Tickets for the concert can be bought from the Hon Treasurer, Joe Clark, on the night of our opening event at the QV2 on Tuesday 7 September, or directly from him by post at: 51 Grange Park, Baldoyle, Dublin 13.

Commuting across a tenor It's amazing how often it takes an out-of-town visitor to remind locals about something that's there under their own noses, or in this case their feet and wheels. For instance, how many of the thousands who commute to and from north east Dublin realise that they cross the John McCormack Bridge twice every day. Fred Grundy, from London, has written to remind us about this particular bridge, which is situated on the Alfie Byrne Road and crosses the River Tolka right at the point where it enters Dublin Bay near East Wall Road. It is a twin-spanned concrete reinforced structure which was named after the great Irish tenor on the occasion of his centenary in 1984. Two points of interest: Alfie Byrne was the Lord Mayor of Dublin when John McCormack was made a Freeman of the City in 1923; and the area in which the bridge is located was meticulously mapped out in 1880 by a certain Captain Bligh, he of Mutiny on the Bounty fame.

On stage in Wexford


GO THOUGHTS ... Oliver O'Brien conducts the 'McCormack Philharmonic Choir' in a rendering of Verdi's "Va pensiero" on the stage of the theatre Royal in Wexford. Wexford Festival Chairman Ted Howlin is second from the right.

There is no record of John McCormack ever having sung in the Theatre Royal in Wexford. But his voice rang out in the upstairs foyer of the venerable place on Sunday 27 June when McCormack biographer, author and music columnist Gus Smith gave our members a short lecture/recital on McCormack's operatic career as part of the Society's outing to the historic town. And it wasn't only John's glorious voice that was heard in the home of Wexford Festival Opera that afternoon. New Chairman Dermot Devitt tried out the theatre's renowned acoustics and Oliver O'Brien directed an ad hoc choral group in a 'sort of performance of the famous "Va pensiero" chorus from Verdi's Nabucco. As luck would have it, our music critic Gus didn't hear the choral effort, as he was off elsewhere leading a bunch of the hardier souls on a forced march around the historic landmarks of Wexford. Our thanks to Wexford Festival Chairman Ted Howlin who selflessly gave up his day of rest to welcome us and escort us around the theatre's front-of-house and backstage facilities.

Seamus Kearns, one of the founding members of the Society, will give the opening talk of the 1999/2000 season at the QV2 on Tuesday 7 September at 8 pm. He will also be showing a selection of photographs which chronicle some of the earlier activity of the Society. The following is a complete fist of events as known at the time of going to press. All events, except the Bursary Concert and the Annual Mass, and take place on Tuesdays in the QV2 Restaurant, 14 St Andrew St, Dublin 2. Friday 17 September, 8 pm: Bursary Concert in the Mansion House.


Sunday 19 September 11 am: Annual John McCormack Mass, St Mary's Pro-Cathedral, Marlborough St, Dublin 1.
Tuesday 5 October, talk/recital by Dermot McDevitt.
Tuesday 2 November, talk/recital by Tom Murphy
Tuesday 23 November, talk/recital by Ita Hackett.
Tuesday 26 January, AGM, followed by entertainment with Dermot McDevitt.
Tuesday 2 February, talk/recital by John Kenny.
Tuesday 2 March, to be announced.
Tuesday 6 April, tba.
Tuesday 4 May, tba.

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