Coin for McCormack

By Irish America Staff
April / May 2014

The Central Bank of Ireland issued a 10-euro coin, their first new collection coin for 2014, to celebrate the life of Irish tenor John McCormack (1884-1945), who reached worldwide fame for his repertoire of both operatic and popular songs. Eight thousand coins retailing at 44 euro were minted.

Born in Athlone as the fourth child in the McCormack household, John won the coveted gold medal of the Dublin Feis Ceois in 1903, and soon thereafter, thanks to local fundraising efforts, traveled to Italy to receive professional voice training in Milan.

In 1906, McCormack made his opera debut at the Teatro Chiabrera in Savona and in 1907 he began his first important operatic performance at Covent Garden in Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana, becoming the theater’s youngest principal tenor. With his increasing popularity and success in Europe, he traveled to the United States in 1909 to an adoring American public. During his long career, McCormack made hundreds of recordings, the first on phonograph wax cylinders in 1904. His most commercially successful series of records were those for the Victor Talking Machine Company during the 1910s and 1920s. He also performed regularly on radio and appeared in a few sound films, most notably the first British color film, Wings of the Morning, in 1937, as well as in Orson Welles’s iconic film Citizen Kane in 1941, where he had a small though uncredited part.

In his personal life, McCormack was married to Lily Foley in 1906 with whom he had two children, Cyril and Gwen.

In 1928, he received the title of Papal Count from Pope Pius XI in recognition of his work for Catholic charities. He had earlier received three papal knighthoods: Knight of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, Knight of the Order of St. Gregory the Great, and Knight of the Order of St. Sylvester. Having been diagnosed with emphysema in 1943, he retired permanently and settled in Dublin. After a series of infectious illnesses, including influenza and pneumonia, McCormack died in September, 1945 and was buried in Deansgrange.

Athlone plans to rename the town civic square after the beloved singer, as well as erect a statue of him there.

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