Born in Athlone 14 June 1884, John Francis McCormack won a scholarship to Summerhill School in Sligo and sang in the choir there. In 1903, he won a gold medal in the Feis Coil as a tenor and afterwards went to Milan for training and progressed to singing in Opera Houses all over the world.
He became one of the world’s most popular singers. Furthermore, one of the best-paid artists of his day, he moved to the USA and became an American citizen. His greatest honour was bestowed upon him by the Pope in 1927 when he was made a Count of the Papal Court.
He died in Botterstown, Dublin on the 16 September 1945. It is on record that the Count flew to Doona - about a six mile journey from Shean - and recounts that he sang to a party of American visitors in the Lodge, “When it's Moonlight in Mayo.”
Eric Craigie takes up the story in his book “An Irish Sporting Life," where he states that he met the Count in Shean, and was invited to fish the river and to shoot the mountains by him - which he and his brother did - and from all accounts had quite a party in the process.
It seems that the Count was not only a poor angler but an impatient one. He had the habit of throwing his rod into the river for the unfortunate Guide, Frank, to retrieve it.
However, Frank got his own back on the Count by sawing through a plank which acted as a bridge. He cut the timber just enough to bear his light weight, but not the twenty stone of the Count. The result was a good ducking for John McCormack. “Just to even things up,” as Frank used to tell us.
On the wall in Shean hangs the following letter written by John McCormack to his friend Monsignor Arthur Ryan, quote:
June 9th ‘39
Don’t exclaim when you see the above address. We came down here to this wonderful spot to catch or rather seek the exclusive salmo ferox but, alas and alack, no rain or fish. Did you ever hear of anyone cursing fine weather in Ireland before? Well here’s one.
Now I want you to come down here for my birthday next Wednesday and stay for a couple of days. You can fish or not as you please. You can certainly see such scenery you can’t see outside Mayo. I now understand the expression, ‘Mayo God help us.’ It must mean God help us appreciate the beauties that has been laid before our eyes. If you can come – and come you must - you could come to Dublin and motor with Cyril or come direct through Sligo to Ballina, to Crossmolina, to Bangor Erris and to Ballcroy. We don’t have to tell you how welcome you will be. I promise to tell about the Pope Pius Coronation and how I stood up for 9 hours.
God love you,
Lily and Aunty and Cyril join in affectionate greetings and the chorus “Come on Arthur, Arthur by the McCormac’s.”
Your friend, John McCormack”