John McCormack | Athlone Arts and Tourism

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John McCormack

Athlone commemorates world renowned tenor John Count McCormack (1884 – 1945) with new sculpture, exhibition and renamed civic square

Westmeath County Council has commemorated Ireland’s world-renowned tenor, John Count McCormack by unveiling a new public art sculpture, renaming a civic square in the town in his honour and opening a new exhibition dedicated to the celebrated singer in Athlone Castle.
Unveiling a new public art sculpture of John Count McCormack

John Count McCormack, who was born in Athlone in 1884, became the most celebrated tenor of his era, singing to packed concert halls across Ireland, Europe and the United States. By the age of 21 McCormack was in Milan studying under the great maestro Vincenzo Sabatini. In 1907, at the age of twenty-three he became the youngest ever tenor to sing a major role at Covent Garden, when he appeared in Cavalleria rusticana. His career was also a huge financial success; at the height of his career he was reputed to be earning £200,000 per annum. In 1928 he was given the honour of being made a Count of the Papal Court for his contribution to charitable causes.

Pat Keating, District Manager, Westmeath County Council said, “John Count McCormack was a wonderfully talented and celebrated tenor and we are delighted to commemorate his exceptional achievements by unveiling this new sculpture and renaming the enhanced civic square in his honour. We have also opened a new exhibition in Athlone Castle, dedicated to the life and career of our most famous tenor.”

The tenor’s grandson, also named John Count McCormack, said, “It is wonderful to have my grandfather’s achievements celebrated publicly in his home town by this sculpture and square. I’m also delighted that people can learn more about his life and career through the new exhibition in Athlone Castle.”

Historian Gearoid O’Brien said, “It is very heartening to see the local authority spear-heading a movement to highlight the life and times of John McCormack. Already we have a fine bronze bust by Seamus Murphy of a young John McCormack on the Promenade. The renaming of the square and the commissioning of a new sculpture by Rory Breslin is a very significant way of honouring the memory of the most famous Athlonian of all times. The present generation deserve to know exactly who McCormack was and to be encouraged to appreciate his many fine recordings.”

The new sculpture has been designed and created by Irish artist Rory Breslin who has executed a large body of public commissions. Award winning young tenor Peter O’Reilly sang at the event. Peter has won awards at the ESB Feis Ceoil for the past two years, including the John Count McCormack Cup, the J.J Watt Trophy for Tenor Solo, and most recently, the Dermot Troy Trophy for oratorio performance.

In 1984 An Post and the US Postal Service jointly commemorated, in Boston and Athlone, the centenary of McCormack’s birth with a specially commissioned John Count McCormack stamp.

On the 29 January 2014 the Central Bank of Ireland launched a ten euro limited edition Silver Proof collector coin to celebrate the Irish tenor.

The new exhibition in Athlone Castle includes memorabilia very kindly loaned by the McCormack Society:

  • John McCormack's Papal chain, presented to him in 1928
  • A silk programme for the Gala Performance in the Royal Opera at Covent Garden 27th May 1908. John McCormack performed in Bizet's 'I Pescatori di Perle' to honour the President of the French Republic, Armand Fallieres.
  • Some personal items including a silver cigarette case which was a Christmas present from his brother Jim given to him in 1919.
  • A gilt jewellery box which was a gift from Mary and Alicia Scott, sisters of Sir John Murray Scott, McCormack's mentor who was instrumental in getting him onto the stage in Covent Garden.

Opening of John Count McCormack exhibition at Athlone Castle with Pat Keating and The tenor’s grandson also named John McCormack
Pat Keating, District Manager, Westmeath County Council and The tenor’s grandson, also named John Count McCormack at the opening of the new exhibition at Athlone Castle