seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of John McCormack, Renowned Irish Tenor

Papal Count John Francis McCormack, KSG, KSS, KHS, Irish tenor celebrated for his performances of the operatic and popular song repertoires, and renowned for his diction and breath control, dies in Booterstown, Dublin, on September 16, 1945.

McCormack is born on June 14, 1884, in Athlone, County Westmeath, the second son and fifth of the 11 children of Andrew McCormack and his wife Hannah Watson. His parents are both from Galashiels, Scotland, and work at the Athlone Woolen Mills, where his father is a foreman. He is baptised in St. Mary’s Church, Athlone, on June 23, 1884.

McCormack receives his early education from the Marist Brothers in Athlone and later attends Summerhill College, Sligo. He sings in the choir of the old St. Peter’s Church in Athlone under his choirmaster Michael Kilkelly. When the family moves to Dublin, he sings in the choir of St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral where he is discovered by Vincent O’Brien. In 1903 he wins the coveted gold medal of the Dublin Feis Ceoil. He marries Lily Foley in 1906 and they have two children, Cyril and Gwen.

In March 1904, McCormack becomes associated with James Joyce, who at the time has singing ambitions himself. He persuades Joyce to enter the Feis Ceoil that year, where the not yet famous writer is awarded the Bronze Medal.

Fundraising activities on his behalf enable McCormack to travel to Italy in 1905 to receive voice training by Vincenzo Sabatini, father of the novelist Rafael Sabatini, in Milan. Sabatini finds McCormack’s voice naturally tuned and concentrates on perfecting his breath control, an element that becomes part of the basis of his renown as a vocalist.

In 1906, McCormack makes his operatic début at the Teatro Chiabrera, Savona. The next year, he begins his first important operatic performance at Covent Garden in Pietro Mascagni‘s Cavalleria rusticana, becoming the theatre’s youngest principal tenor. In 1909, he begins his career in the United States.

In February 1911, McCormack plays Lieutenant Paul Merrill in the world premiere of Victor Herbert‘s opera Natoma with Mary Garden in the title role. Later that year, he tours Australia after Dame Nellie Melba engages him, then at the height of his operatic career, aged 27, as a star tenor for the Melba Grand Opera Season. He returns for concert tours in subsequent years.

By 1912, McCormack is beginning to become involved increasingly with concert performances, where his voice quality and charisma ensures that he becomes the most celebrated lyric tenor of his time. He does not, however, retire from the operatic stage until after his performance of 1923 in Monte Carlo, although by then the top notes of his voice have contracted. Famous for his extraordinary breath control, he can sing 64 notes on one breath in Mozart‘s “Il mio tesoro” from Don Giovanni, and his Handelian singing is just as impressive in this regard.

McCormack makes hundreds of recordings, his best-known and most commercially successful series of records being those for the Victor Talking Machine Company during the 1910s and 1920s. He is Victor’s most popular Red Seal recording artist after tenor Enrico Caruso. In the 1920s, he sings regularly on radio and later appears in two sound films, Song o’ My Heart (1930), playing an Irish tenor, and as himself appearing in a party scene in Wings of the Morning (1937), the first British three-strip Technicolor feature.

McCormack is one of the first artists to record the popular ballad “I Hear You Calling Me” written in 1908 by Harold Harford and Charles Marshall. He records it twice for Odeon Records starting in 1908 and a further four times for Victor between 1910 and 1927, becoming his best seller. He is the first artist to record the famous World War I song “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” in 1914. He also records a best-selling version of another popular World War I tune, “Keep the Home Fires Burning,” in 1917. He also sings songs expressive of Irish nationalism and endorses the Irish Nationalist estrangement from the United Kingdom. He is associated particularly with the songs of Thomas Moore, notably “The Harp That Once Through Tara’s Halls,” “The Minstrel Boy,” “Believe Me If All (Those Endearing Young Charms),” and “The Last Rose of Summer.” Between 1914 and 1922, he records almost two dozen songs with violin accompaniment provided by Fritz Kreisler, with whom he also tours. He records songs of Hugo Wolf for the Hugo Wolf Society in German. In 1918, he records the song “Calling Me Home to You.”

In 1917, McCormack becomes a naturalised citizen of the United States. In June 1918, he donates $11,458 toward the U.S. World War I effort. By then, his career is a huge financial success, earning millions in his lifetime from record sales and appearances.

By 1920, Edwin Schneider has become McCormack’s accompanist and the two are “inseparable.” When Schneider retires, Gerald Moore takes over as accompanist from 1939 to 1943.

In 1927, McCormack moves into Moore Abbey, Monasterevin, County Kildare, and adopts a very opulent lifestyle by Irish standards. He also owns apartments in London and New York. He hopes that one of his racehorses, such as Golden Lullaby, would win The Derby, but this never occurs.

McCormack also purchases Runyon Canyon in Hollywood in 1930 from Carman Runyon. He sees and likes the estate while there filming Song o’ My Heart (1930), an early all-talking, all-singing picture. He uses his salary for this movie to purchase the estate and builds a mansion he calls ‘San Patrizio,’ after Saint Patrick. He and his wife live in the mansion until they return to England in 1938.

McCormack tours often, and in his absence, the mansion is often let to celebrities such as Janet Gaynor and Charles Boyer. The McCormacks make many friends in Hollywood, among them Errol Flynn, Will Rogers, John Barrymore, Basil Rathbone, Ronald Colman, Charles E. Toberman and the Dohenys. After his farewell tour of America in 1937, the McCormacks deed the estate back to Carman Runyon expecting to return to the estate at a later date. World War II intervenes and he does not return.

McCormack originally ends his career at the Royal Albert Hall in London, during 1938. However, one year after that farewell concert, he is back singing for the Red Cross and in support of the war effort. He gives concerts, tours, broadcasts and records in this capacity until 1943 when poor health finally forces him to retire permanently.

Ill with emphysema, McCormack purchases a house near the sea, “Glena,” Booterstown, Dublin. After years of increasingly poor health, and a series of infectious illnesses, including influenza and pneumonia, he dies at his home in Booterstown on September 16, 1945. He is buried in Deans Grange Cemetery, St. Patrick’s section, plot reference E/120.


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Death of Mother Mary Martin

Mother Mary of the Incarnation Martin, foundress of the Catholic religious institute of the Medical Missionaries of Mary, dies in Drogheda, County Louth, on January 27, 1975.

Martin is born Marie Helena Martin in Glenageary, County Dublin, on April 24, 1892, the second of twelve children of Thomas Martin and Mary Moore. In 1904, while attending classes for her First Communion, she contracts rheumatic fever, which is to affect her heart permanently. Tragedy hits the family on St. Patrick’s Day 1907, as her father is killed in what is presumed to be an accidental shooting. Later her mother sends her to schools in Scotland, England and Germany, all of which she leaves as quickly as possible.

Upon the outbreak of World War I, Martin joins the Voluntary Aid Detachment, a division of the Red Cross. In October 1915, she is assigned to work in Malta. After learning that her brother had been killed in the campaign of Gallipoli, she returns to Ireland in April 1916. She is called to serve again a month later at Neufchâtel-Hardelot, France, in a field hospital near the front lines of the Battle of the Somme. This assignment lasts until December of that year, followed by a brief stint in Leeds, England. After the war, she is called upon help in nursing victims of the Spanish flu, which had begun to devastate populations around the world.

In 1917 a new curate comes to the parish which Martin attends, the Reverend Thomas Roynane, to whom she turns for guidance. Roynane inspires her with an interest in pursuing missionary work. She goes to England in January 1919 for further medical training. Her mother’s severe illness the following year interrupts her training, however, as she has to return home to care for her.

In April 1920, Roynane arranges for Martin to meet the new bishop, and she volunteers her services as a lay missionary to work in his jurisdiction in southern Nigeria. Agnes Ryan, a local schoolteacher now in her fourth year of medical training, advises her that she wishes to join her in the African mission.

In April 1921, Martin and Ryan leave Ireland for Nigeria. They set sail for Africa from Liverpool on May 25 and arrive in the port of Calabar on June 14. They arrive prepared to provide medical care, only to learn that they are expected to run a school which had been staffed by French Religious Sisters until two years prior. To give the parents and children of the school a sense of continuity, the two women are addressed as “Sisters” by the priests and treated as if they are already members of an established religious institute.

By October, Ryan contracts malaria and develops a heart condition, which require her return to Ireland. Forced to fill in as Acting Headmistress, Martin meets with the bishop in his headquarters at Onitsha and is advised that caution is needed in providing medical care to the people of her mission, so as not to provoke objections by other missionaries in the region. Upon her return to Calabar, she makes a 30-day retreat.

In April 1922 the bishop travels there and holds two weeks of consultations with Martin, Roynane and another missioner, during which the Rule and Constitutions of a new congregation are hammered out, with the understanding that Martin will be the foundress. Martin does not see the bishop again for two years. During this time she learns that the bishop is working to establish the new congregation in Ireland, a direction she feels will focus the congregation on teaching rather than the medical care. An Irish Sister of Charity, Sister Magdalen Walker, is released from her congregation to help in this new work and arrives in Calabar in October 1923.

The following January Martin is directed by the bishop to return to Ireland to make a canonical novitiate. In March she starts her time of postulancy, prior to admission to the novitiate year. After 18 months, however, upon completion of the novitiate year she leaves the community, as the training provided by the Dominican Sisters has not been oriented toward medical care.

In this formal step of forming the new congregation, Martin encounters the prohibition in the new Code of Canon Law of 1917 of the Catholic Church against members of religious orders practicing medicine. Facing this barrier, she still feels a call to consecrated life and considers following the example of the recently canonized Carmelite nun, Thérèse of Lisieux. In 1927 she applies to the community of that Order in Dublin, but her application is declined, solely on the decision of the prioress who feels that Martin is called to a different path in life. She then goes through a new period of confusion until she is requested to consider again serving the missions. She then forms a small group of women to provide the domestic service for the preparatory school run by the Benedictine monks Glenstal Abbey.

In 1933, following a long period of illness, Martin approaches the new Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland, Archbishop Paschal Robinson. He is supportive of her goals and encourages her continually over the next years. Finally, in February 1936, the Holy See lifts prohibition against Religious Sisters serving as doctors or midwives. She then seeks a diocese which will accept a new congregation, without success. In October of that same year, Antonio Riberi is named Apostolic Delegate in Africa, based in Kenya. He gives his support to having the congregation established in Calabar.

While still negotiating to purchase a house in Ireland as a local base, complicated by the fact that they are not yet a formal congregation, the small community sails for Nigeria at the end of 1936. Upon their arrival Martin suffers a heart attack and is hospitalized at Port Harcourt. It is there that she professes religious vows on April 4, 1937. With that the Medical Missionaries of Mary become established.

Martin’s health is always a source of concern but she lives until 1975. Today the Medical Missionaries of Mary number some 400 women from 16 different nations, who serve in 14 different countries around the world.