McCormack Society Newsletter No 3. August 2001

The John McCormack Society


No 3. Autumn 2001

Articles in this issue

Notes from the Chair

Colum O'Brien

Liam Breen

The Galway Experience

The Early Days

Notes from the Chair

Greetings from the Chair and welcome to another Newsletter.

As Mallory had it: 'The old order changeth, yielding place to new'.

Shortly before we went to press, Oliver O'Brien graciously accepted the position of President of the Society.

At the AGM held in February, I had to honour of being elected your Chairman for the coming year, and John Allen was elected Vice-Chairman. We have taken over from our esteemed predecessors Dermot McDevitt and Donal McNally who, because of outside pressures, could not continue in their offices. I would like to express our profound thanks to both Dermot and Donal for their continued help, advice, support and experience in helping keep the show on the road. Also, I would like to particularly welcome Seamus Keams back to the Committee. Seamus was a founder member of the Society in the early 1960s and also acted as Secretary for a period. You will enjoy his contribution in this issue concerning those early days.

Furthermore, I would like to thank all the other members of the Committee for their work and effort with a special mention of our marvellous Secretary Marie Tully; our Treasurer Joe Clarke; and Ita Hackett, who did Trojan work in organising various outings, particularly the McCormack Experience in Galway last November. You are extremely fortunate in having such a marvellous group to carry on the business of the Society. As regards Galway, anyone who was there will realise that it was the experience of a lifetime. Our visitors from overseas were very highly impressed and enjoyed themselves thoroughly. Talks, expositions, a film show and recitals culminated in a marvellous tour-de-force from Oliver O'Brien. Our thanks are due to all the presenters and particularly the three principal organisers: Ita Hackett, Marie Tully and John Alien.

On a sad note we regret the deaths of the Society's long-time President Liam Breen and of Colum O'Brien, son of Vincent and brother of Oliver. Colum was a former President of the Society. Your Committee represented you at the removals and burial ceremonies. The Committee also expressed their sorrow to the two families and sent wreaths and Mass cards.

Our membership is keeping up, but more would always be welcome. Do see if you can encourage your friends to sample what the Society offers, whether by attending recitals and concerts or coming on an outing, or even the trip to Killamey. This is the only way the Society can go from strength to strength. We have a number of new members and it is a joy to see them partake of the events.

During the year we also had our summer outing, our annual Commemorative Mass in the Pro-Cathedral, and our Bursary Concert in the Dublin Mansion House. Our annual dinner, at which a wonderful night was had by all, was held at the QV2 Restaurant in February. And in April we were back at the Mansion House singing for the Lord Mayor and his guests.

This Newsletter is for you, the members. It would really be great you would make it more your own by writing features on aspects of McCormack's career, or maybe just sending your comments on aspects of the Society. Also, do let us know of your concerns or questions or how we could serve you better.

A special word of thanks to our sponsor, Mr Frank Grennan of Athlone, who continues to support the John McCormack Bursaries for young singers.
Risteard de Barra.

COLUM O'BRIEN .....It is with a great degree of sadness that I record the death of Colum O'Brien, a great personal friend both to me and to the John McCormack Society of Ireland. Although he had not been in very good health for some time, it still came as a great shock that he was gone from us. As I lived in Marlborough St for the first 27 years of my life, I always knew of the O'Brien family and their connection with the Pro-Cathedral. At that time Colum's father, Vincent, was still very much involved with the "Pro", and indeed I once was a member of a school choir at a competition adjudicated by him. The O'Brien family was then living on Parnell Square, so we were almost neighbours, although my brother and I went to O'Connell Schools and the O'Briens were students in Belvedere College. Both Colum and Oliver also had a long association with the Pro-Cathedral and the family's connection to that church extended to an almost unbelievable one hundred years. When the John McCormack Society was first formed, Colum became one of our most enthusiastic supporters, and gave the first of many recitals for us in St. Anthony's Hall, Merchant's Quay in November 1960. He was later invited to become the second President of the Society. His distinguished career included being a prize-winner for piano solo at the Feis Cecil, being the organist at the Pro-Cathedral for many years and being the music critic for The Irish Tatler and Sketch for a lengthy period. He will be sadly missed by his family, his many friends and by musical Dublin. May he rest in Peace.
Seamus Kearns


Liam Breen, who died in early May this year, was a man who made me rich in many ways. The late President of the John McCormack Society made me rich by giving me, over and over again, the joy of learning new music; the excitement of discovering the great voices of the past; the opportunity of meeting with other musical enthusiasts; and, not least, the chance of acquiring John McCormack records that were not otherwise obtainable in this country. Some of the happiest times of my young adulthood were spent in his record shops, first on Essex Quay and later in Liffey Street. And it was Liam who first gave me the chance of talking to a captive audience as one of the presenters of his monthly record recitals. Rest well, Liam.
John Allen



Some seventy members and friends of the Society from Ireland and overseas convened at the Great Southern Hotel in Galway last November for a three-day seminar devoted to the art and life of John McCormack. The McCormack Experience, as it was called, was organised by Ita Hackett, Marie Tully and John Alien. The hotel's conference centre, the focal point of the event, was decorated with historical pictures, programmes, newspaper cuttings, record sleeves and other memorabilia, most of them from the collection of Seamus Kearns. Politician and poet Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabrina were the special guests at dinner on the Sunday evening, which was followed by the opening presentation, given by John Ward from Lancashire. Chairman Dermot McDevitt welcomed all the delegates, especially the overseas members: Neil and Susan Coming from Boston; Bob Muldoon from St Louis; Barry Stapleton from Wilwaukee; John and Jean Scally from Scotland; Ken Steenson from London; and the aforementioned John Ward The programme of lectures and presentations, as featured on the opposite page, speaks for itself. But there was another dimension to the occasion - the social one. Not the least of the pleasures was the chance to meet and talk with newly-met McCormack aficionados from other places and to pick the brains of the more knowledgeable ones. Then there were the late-night sing-songs with Oliver O'Brien presiding at the piano. And who will ever forget Oliver's virtuoso performance as he took us down memory lane at the closing lecture on the Tuesday evening? Guest presenter Neil Corning from Boston (centre) with Oliver and Elizabeth O'Brien. Chaiman Dermot McDevitt, presenter John Ward from Lancashire, and special guest Michael D Higgins TD. Seamus Kearns presents some visual Risteard de Barra captures the event on memories of John McCormack. camera.

THE EARLY DAYS SEAMUS KEARNS recalls the founding of the John McCormack Society of Ireland

Late in 1959, Maurice Linnane and his son Morrough were playing records when Maurice suggested that a John McCormack Society would be a good idea. He was a little surprised that Morrough was quite enthusiastic and they straight away composed a letter to all the newspapers inviting interested people to get in touch with them with a view to implementing their idea. At that time there were three morning and three evening papers in Dublin, so they confidently expected a considerable response. Alas, only fourteen replies were received. One was from England, three were from outside Dublin and a fifth appeared to be from a rather 'dotty' character. Some days later I met Maurice as we got off the commuter train at Killester Station. He related his tale of woe, and I endeavoured to console him by saying that I hadn't seen any of the letters and that there undoubtedly were many others who either hadn't seen the letters or who just hadn't bothered to reply. We made enquiries about a possible venue, and were hugely encouraged by Fr Oliver of Merchant's Quay church. He offered the use of St Anthony's Hall beside his church for a recital of McCormack records to sound out support for a society. With seating for over 200 people and a cafe attached this was a huge boost to our spirits. The recital was most successful, with a full house attendance, and plenty of enthusiasm for the idea of a society. During the interval we decided to invite Robert L Webster and two young friends of his - Michael Keogh and Niall Ruane - to join us as a provisional committee to organise an inaugural meeting for the setting up of the Society. After some preparatory work by the provisional committee, a public meeting was held at the St Anthony's Hall, on 19 January 1960 which was attended by over 100 people. There was an amount of discussion before Mr Jonathan Hanaghan proposed 'that the John McCormack Society of Ireland be established'. Mr Dermot Hourigan seconded the proposal, and it was carried unanimously. The proposed rules of the Society were then agreed and the following Committee was elected. Chairman, Robert Webster; Hon Secretary, Morrough Linnane; Hon Treasurer, Michael Keogh. Committee: Anthony Daly, Charles Fennell, Seamus Kerns, Maurice Linnane, Gerard Murphy and Niall Ruane. At this point, some members of the audience protested that there were no women on committee. This created a problem, since the election had already been concluded. The dilemma was solved by a proposal that the committee be given the power to co-opt. Miss Joan Mullins was then co-opted on to the committee. Later in that year, Mr Theodore Mortimer was also co-opted. On 15 February 1960 the new Society's first record recital was given in the Shelboume Hotel by Maurice Linnane and Robert Webster, at the invitation of the Ireland-America Society. The next recital came about as a result of correspondence in one of the newspapers about the relative merits of Caruso and McCormack. It took place on 23 February in St Anthony's Hall and was given by Seamus Keams and Theo Mortimer, who played a selection of records by both singers. This was followed on 15 March, at the same venue, by a programme of John's ballad recordings presented by Gerard Murphy, Anthony Daly, Robert Webster and Niall Ruane. On 5 April, the Presidency of the Society was accepted by Monsignor Arthur Ryan, who had been a close friend of John. Later in the month, Mons Ryan visited Dublin and met with the committee in the Shelboume Hotel. On 19April Maurice Linnane presented a recital in St Anthony's Hall, and the next one was given by Robert Webster in the Teachers' Club on 20 May. Mr Webster was again the recitalist in Jury's Hotel on 24 May to commemorate the recent death of Lucretia Bori. On 22 July, Lily Countess McCormack presented a programme covering John's records from 1910-1941, including a then-unpublished "Wo find ich Trost" by Hugo Wolf. This was followed by a memorable night in the Hibernian Hotel on 20 September which was attended by many of the musical personages of Dublin. On the next evening the committee met with the Countess and with Cyril Count McCormack at the latter's home. A little earlier, on 11 September, Radio Eireann had commemorated John's death with a programme featuring Countess McCormack, John O'Donovan, Lady Dorothy Mayer, Jean Nolan, and Robert Webster. The Society's first year ended with two events: a most entertaining evening in which Colum O'Brien mixed a recital of John's records with many personal memories of his meetings with the great tenor, and a final recital given by Gerard Murphy on 29 November.


REMINDER Annual membership fees must be renewed before the end of January

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