Ballycroy and Ireland's Legendary Tenor John McCormack
Acknowledgement: The following material is taken almost completely from a book on John McCormack, by Mr Padraic O'Hara (of Amana Estate, Ballina), published in December 2000. Our sincere thanks to Mr O'Hara for making this material available to us.
One of Ballycroy's boasts is that Ireland's renowned tenor, John McCormack, came on holidays here to the very beautifully located Shean Lodge. Shean is at the geographical centre of Ballycroy. The tenor was a great friend of a catholic priest of the diocese of Down and Connor in the north of Ireland, Monsignor Arthur Ryan. Two letters and a postcard, regarding Ballycroy, by John to the Monsignor, are still existent. They are inviting the Monsignor to come to Ballycroy, where John was on his first, and last, holiday in Ireland after his farewell tour. The letters and postcard were all written during the summer of 1939. The tenor was to die on 16th September 1945. The first letter praises the natural beauty of Mayo and refers to John's 'official' presence as Papal Count at Pope Pius XII's coronation. The postcard (undated) further mentions the beauties of Mayo and refers to singer Sara Buckley (who was later to go with John and baritone Robert Irwin, on the tenor's final tour in aid of the Red Cross, at the beginning of World War II). The second letter mentions Ballycroy's parish priest, Fr Anthony Timlin, and John's own plans to go to London.
The text of the first letter read as follows:
Shean Lodge, Ballycroy, County Mayo. June 9th '39
Carissimo Arturo, Don't exclaim when you see the above address. We came down here to this wonderful spot to catch or rather seek the elusive Salmo Ferox but, alas and alack, no rain no 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 14th and stay a couple of days. You can fish or not as you please. You can certainly see such scenery as you can't see outside Mayo. I now understand the expression 'Mayo God help us'. It must mean 'God help us to appreciate the beauties that Thou hast 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 Ballycroy. We don't have to tell you how welcome you will be. I promise too to tell you all about the Pope's Coronation and how I stood up for 9 hours. God love you. Lily and Aunty and Cyril join in affectionate greetings and in the chorus 'Come on, Arthur' by the McCormacks.
Your friend, John McCormack.
The following is the text of the message on the Postcard (with a view of 'The Atlantic Drive, Achill') written, obviously, after the Monsignor had replied to the letter of June 9th.
Carissimo Arturo, God love you for your letter and your 'high brow' telegram. I am sure the Telegraph girl at Ballycroy thought it was from the Pope. Dominus vobiscum all the same! I am sending you this to show you what you are missing by not coming to see us. We will be here till mid-July. Then London. We have a lovely studio there where I can hear all the 'good promises' and perhaps 'coach' some of them. My contralto Sara Buckley broadcasts in Dublin, July 8th. It is a lovely voice. Why not come that weekend and hear her here!!
Our love to you. John.
The text of the second letter reads as follows:
Shean Lodge, Ballycroy, County Mayo. June 29th '39
Carissimo, Cheers. Come on. We will welcome you on the 8th inst. if you can be here but don't be later than the 9th or you will be taken 'to task.' (Madonna mia, che orrore!) Our Parish Priest, Father Timlin, a perfect dear, is most anxious to meet you 'I can't imagine why' but he goes on Retreat on the 10th so get here, see!!! We have not got a Gramophone here but when you are in London I will show you our wonderful Gram, Radio, Television set. We have decided to settle in London for a while and come to Ireland during the summer as we did this year.
Our love to you. Sempre a te. John.
Monsignor Ryan added a little note of his own to the above letter, which included the following: 'I went, thank God, and on my first day on the river, John's gillie tied a fly for me, and on my first cast I caught a lovely wee trout! Photograph in my bundle of reminiscences.