14 June 1884: Count John McCormack was born on this day. He is considered the greatest singer Ireland has ever produced. He was the fourth of eleven children born to Hannah and Andrew McCormack, and one of the five to survive childhood. Though his own parents hailed from Scotland his paternal Grandfather was originally from County Sligo. He was educated locally by the Marists in Athlone where his singing abilities were first recognised.
I was nine and a slip of a lad and shy. It was in the Marist brothers' school on a feast day, when Dr. Woodlock, Bishop of Clonmacnoise, was the guest of honour. I'll not forget the sensation at hearing the words, which Brother Hugh whispered in my ear. ‘We want you to sing, John, for Bishop Woodlock’. With that the good man lifted me upon a table, and left me looking at the gathering…I think they must have liked it. They seemed to. I had no extensive repertoire, but what I knew I knew. And the singing spirit must have been there. Like the man born to be hanged, I possibly was intended to sing.
Afterwards he won a Scholarship to study at the Diocesan College in Summerhill County Sligo. He completed his studies there in 1902. After considering trying his hand at various lines of work he was offered a position with the Palestrina Choir in Dublin’s Pro Cathedral. Vincent O’Brien, the choir master & organist there, saw the great potential in him and recommended for the position of Tenor with the Choir.
He was organist of the Marlborough Street Cathedral, in Dublin; a splendid musician, a fine man, and a staunch friend. He had vision and appeared, intuitively, to feel that all I needed was study and opportunity to achieve a goal worthy of serious aspiration. Ballynahinch/
It was the beginning of a hugely successful career that saw him perform around the World to International acclaim. He was hugely popular in the USA in the 1920s and his fame fore shadowed that of singers like Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley in the fame he achieved at that time.
He is best remembered at home though for his magnificent performance of César Franck's Panis Angelicus to the hundreds of thousands who thronged Dublin's Phoenix Park for the 1932 Eucharistic Congress. Pope Pius XI made him a Count of the Church in 1928. He died in Dublin in 1945 and is buried in Deans Grange Cemetery Dublin.
Sculpture by Elizabeth Kane in Iveagh Gardens, Dublin 2.