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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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Birth of Cornelius Ryan, Journalist & Author

cornelius-ryanCornelius Ryan, Irish journalist and author mainly known for his writings on popular military history, is born in Dublin in June 5, 1920. He is especially known for his World War II books The Longest Day: 6 June 1944 D-Day (1959), The Last Battle (1966), and A Bridge Too Far (1974).

Ryan is educated at Synge Street CBS, Portobello, Dublin. He is an altar boy at St. Kevin’s Church, Harrington Street and studies the violin at the Irish Academy of Music in Dublin. He is a boy scout in the 52nd Troop of the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland and travels on their pilgrimage to Rome on the liner RMS Lancastria in 1934. He moves to London in 1940 and becomes a war correspondent for The Daily Telegraph in 1941.

Ryan initially covers the air war in Europe, flying along on fourteen bombing missions with the Eighth and Ninth United States Army Air Forces (USAAF). He then joins General George S. Patton‘s Third Army and covers its actions until the end of the European war. He transfers to the Pacific theater in 1945 and then to Jerusalem in 1946.

Ryan emigrates to the United States in 1947 to work for Time, where he reports on the postwar tests of atomic weapons carried out by the United States in the Pacific. He then reports for Time on the Arab-Israeli war in 1948. This is followed by work for other magazines, including Collier’s Weekly and Reader’s Digest.

Ryan marries Kathryn Morgan, a novelist, and becomes a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1951.

On a trip to Normandy in 1949 Ryan becomes interested in telling a more complete story of Operation Overlord than has been produced to date. He begins compiling information and conducting over 1,000 interviews as he gathers stories from both the Allies and the Germans, as well as the French civilians.

In 1956 Ryan begins to write down his World War II notes for The Longest Day: 6 June 1944 D-Day, which tells the story of the D-Day Invasion of Normandy, published three years later in 1959. It is an instant success and he assists in the writing of the screenplay for the 1962 film of the same name. Darryl F. Zanuck pays the author U.S.$175,000 for the screen rights to the book.

Ryan’s 1957 book One Minute to Ditch! is about the successful ocean ditching of a Pan American Boeing 377 Stratocruiser. He had written an article about the ditching for Collier’s in their December 21, 1956, issue and then expanded it into the book.

Ryan’s next work is The Last Battle (1966), about the Battle of Berlin. The book contains detailed accounts from all perspectives: civilian, American, British, Russian and German. It deals with the fraught military and political situation in the spring of 1945, when the forces of the western allies and the Soviet Union contend for the chance to liberate Berlin and to carve up the remains of Germany.

This work was followed by A Bridge Too Far (1974), which tells the story of Operation Market Garden, the ill-fated assault by allied airborne forces on the Netherlands culminating in the Battle of Arnhem. It is made into a major 1977 film of the same name.

Ryan is awarded the French Legion of Honour and an honorary Doctor of Literature degree from Ohio University, where the Cornelius Ryan Collection is housed in the Alden Library. He is diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1970 and struggles to finish A Bridge Too Far during his illness. He dies in Manhattan on November 23, 1974, while on tour promoting the book, only two months after publication. He is buried in the Ridgebury Cemetery in northern Ridgefield, Connecticut.

Four years after his death, Ryan’s struggle with prostate cancer is detailed in A Private Battle, written by his widow, from notes he had secretly left behind for that purpose.