Sligo Today Editorial

By Paddy Clancy

It would be nice if somebody, or some institution, could now give greater cultural projection to what happened in their youth in their home towns before they became famous.

I was listening to a history of opera singer Margaret Burke Sheridan on Bowman: Sunday: on RTÉ radio when I was struck by thought that we have many international persons of distinction in the West of Ireland who deserve greater acknowledgement of their achievements.

The Wild Atlantic Way is among Failte Ireland’s greatest promotions and it has worked wonders in attracting visitors to the beauty spots and culinary attractions of the west.

Listening to the wonderful voice of Castlebar-born Burke Sheridan, I realised that somehow the west has produced many famous people who are almost forgotten today with few or none enduring memorials in their birth-places.

What an added attraction to the Wild Atlantic Way would be the establishment of permanent reminders like little workshops, museums, monuments or plaques at the homes where the famous were born and the schools they attended and the dance or concert halls they frequented!

I am thinking along the lines of what Elvis has done for Memphis and the Beatles for Liverpool!

Where they were born, where they lived, their clubs; all are now famous landmarks in those two cities.

To a certain extent, a few of the west’s famous are similarly acknowledged.

Buses and cars are constantly dropping visitors off at poet WB Yeats grave beneath Ben Bulben in Sligo and he is well-remembered at the Yeats Summer School in the town.

You can’t go to Dungloe in Donegal without spotting signs well in advance of the town promoting the museum to Daniel O’Donnell, who still performs and has a home he regularly uses in the area. Indeed, it’s not so many years ago that Daniel had an annual tea-party at his house which attracted thousands.

Daniel is a living legend who is widely honoured in his own lifetime.

Down the road in Sligo, more could be done to boast about its own singers in Westlife who sold 50 million records and had 14 Number One hits.

Back to the western personalities whose achievements are buried in history and should be remembered with greater diligence!

Burke Sheridan, who died 60 years ago – and loved to describe herself as Maggie from Mayo – was orphaned at 12 and yet managed to conquer the opera world. She was a prima donna who was championed by inventor Marconi and entertained audiences at the best theatres in Italy where she sung at La Scala under the direction of Toscanini. She held Puccini spellbound when she played the part of Madame Butterfly.

Around the same time, Count John McCormack, who attended Summerhill College, Sligo, became the greatest living tenor of his day and was the youngest ever to sing a major role at Covent Garden.

He filled Carnegie Hall and the Hippodrome in New York 12 times in one season alone.

Long after McCormack’s death, I recall being told he rehearsed in his school-days at a piano in a recreation room at Summerhill in Sligo which I attended. The piano, or claims by students that it was the same one, was rotting away in the corner. Many years later, I wondered why the piano was not preserved.

I mention this only as a reminder how in the old days before television made the entertainment world smaller, talent went abroad to be appreciated.

It would be nice if somebody, or some institution, could now give greater cultural projection to what happened in their youth in their home towns before they became famous.

Meanwhile, I look forward to the second half of the programme on Burke Sheridan on Bowman next Sunday when we may hear if it’s true she ended her career early because an Italian whose overtures she rejected had blown his brains out in a box in La Scala.

First published in The Irish Mirror

Posted on 17/04/18 : 06:50:52