Updated: Jun 13, 2019
It is worth remembering the amount of money generated by and in the name of William Butler Yeats, John Count McCormack and James Joyce as we celebrate Bloomsday on June 16th.
With the popularity of Bloomsday in recent years, the Yeats Society has started to promote the anniversary of WB Yeats´ birthday which falls on the 13th of June which begs the question, can we squeeze in another celebration for Athlone´s most famous son?
McCormack was known all over the world and was the voice of soldiers singing "Long Way to Tipperary" in World War 1 but far from Tipperary, he was born at the Bawn, near Athlone Town Centre on June 14th 1884.
All three men have earned their place in history and despite complaining about “add(ing) the halfpence to the pence” and “fumbl(ing) in a greasy till” in his poem “September 1913” Senator Yeats chaired the committee that gave our coins, their beastly look with images of pigs and bulls and birds.
John Francis McCormack made a lot of money in his day and the Irish tenor made quite a name for himself, fundraising for the Allied war effort, he even became a papal count by Pope Pius XI in 1928 for his religious charity work.
Count McCormack didn't live in the Holy Land but in Hollywood where they must have appreciated his value as 20th Century Fox paid a staggering $500,000 for his contribution to the 1930 film, ´Song O´ My Heart´. Starring alongside actress Alice Joyce and Maureen O´Hara. O´Hara, Mia Farrow´s mother who was a native of Boyle, Co Roscommon.
McCormack didn’t have an Instagram account but he was well recorded in his time thanks to Thomas Edison´s 1877 invention, the phonograph which used wax cylinders to record sound. Some even credit McCormack as creating the record industry.
Who else could Hollywood accountants afford to get, to wax lyrically for their early talkie film than the ´Long Way to Tipperary´ celebrity and papal count?
James Joyce coined many expressions but wanted to be a successful tenor too and even sang with McCormack at Dublin’s Horse Show Week in August 1904.
McCormack had won gold at the 1903 Ard Feis and encouraged Joyce to become a singer.
The political poet WB Yeats, operatic actor McCormack and controversial writer James Joyce gave much to Irish culture but the richness of their contributions to society can be seen in the money they made. Senator Yeats helped to design Ireland´s first coins and James Joyce became noteworthy as a tenner though he always wanted to be a tenor like his friend John McCormack.
Ireland has seen some change over the years, James Joyce was penniless at times, Yeats pocketed a Noble prize but we can still Count on John McCormack to be able to make money in modern times as 8,000 commemorative €10 coins were produced in his image in 2014.
Worth remembering, the international cultural investment these men made and the musical notes Count McCormack made along the banks of the Shannon.
Offshore accounts, will show that even the Irish Navy is trying to cash-in on their cultural value through the commissioning of two Samuel Beckett class offshore patrol boats, LÉ William Butler Yeats and LÉ James Joyce, each costing approximately €71 million.
Politically, poetry, prose, song and film, the greasy till has certainly been filled as we have added halfpence to the cent, the tenner and the tenor on the €10 coin. We owe them an enormous debt.
In recent years, Sligo born tenor, Ross Scanlon has played homage to McCormack with a series of national and international concerts ´Songs from McCormack´s Songbook´ and maybe we should sing WB Yeats and John Count McCormack, a very happy birthday as people prepare to celebrate Bloomsday on Sunday.