Cork City

Services and Programmes

Archive News

William Dunlea : the Voice of Erin

Biography launched

bulldunleaFollowing the positive reaction to the exhibition on William Dunlea in St Mary's Road Library in January 2008, Cork City Libraries commissioned Jim McKeon to write the text of a short biography of the singer.  This biography was published on 9 December 2008.

The book examines Dunlea's early life, growing up in the lanes of Blackpool, the family’s Republican sympathies, as well as William’s singing career from his earliest days, through triumphs in London and the US and famous concerts in Cork.

William Dunlea  -  The Voice of Erin:  Exhibition based on the scrapbooks of William Dunlea is on display at Cork City Library, Central Library, Grand Parade, from 1 December 2008 to mark the launch of his biography by the Cork Music Archive at Cork City Libraries, on Tuesday 9 December at 7.00 pm. The biography William Dunlea: The Voice of Erin is written by Cork author Jim McKeon.

“He was a great Irishman, a proud Corkman but a quintessential Blackpool boy” writes Jim McKeon, who reported that Dunlea once said he’d rather be appreciated in Cork than in Carnegie Hall, adding, “If you pass Cork you’ll pass the world”.

In the book’s foreword, City Librarian Liam Ronayne said, “The man popularly known as the `Voice of Erin’, not only in his native Blackpool and Cork but in Britain and U.S., still casts a long shadow”. Dunlea’s new biography will bring his story to a wider audience.

Jim McKeon is a well-known Cork novelist and biographer who has written, among other publications, Frank O’Connor : a life. The new book is generously illustrated with photographs, and reproductions of programmes, posters and newspaper clippings.

William Dunlea achieved critical acclaim in 1938 when he won his first national competition, “Newcomer’s Hour” with Radio Éireann.

In 1939 he won a gold medal in the `Discover McCormack’ competition run by Radio Éireann to find the singer to succeed McCormack.

He won the gold medal at the Feis Ceoil in 1944, John McCormack was the judge,  and this was a watershed in his life.

The book examines his early life, growing up in Blackpool, the family’s republican sympathies, as well as his singing career from the earliest days, his time in London with the BBC, his extended tour of the US, and his famous concerts in Cork.

-He played the accordion and many other instruments.
-He was a champion bowl-player
-He was a deeply religious man
-An accomplished painter
-An ardent Glen Rovers Hurling Club supporter and friend of Jack Lynch.

In his acknowledgements for the book, Jim McKeon paid special tribute to the staff of St Mary’s Road Library and especially Martin Byrne for their work on the project. With the help of Tim Ryan, Cathedral Road and the late Jerry O’Callaghan, Dominic Street. St Mary’s Rd Library and the Northside Folklore project initiated work on the William Dunlea biography project. A gramophone recital was held in St Mary’s Rd in January 2008 to mark the 10th anniversary of William Dunlea’s death. From the response to this recital the idea of the book was born. 

William Dunlea exhibition, January 2008

In January 2008 Cork City Library Music Archive paid tribute to one of the finest tenors Cork has ever produced, William Dunlea. 'Wallou', as he was known locally, was a native of Blackpool so it was fitting that the tribute, in the form of an exhibition and gramophone recital, was held in St Mary's Road library, situated near his birthplace.  Equally appropriately the recital occurred on Friday, 18 January 2008, one week after the 10th anniversary of his death.

The exhibition featured newspaper articles provided by the Local History Department. These gave an insight into William’s dedication to his art and his experiences as successor to Count John McCormack. The Dunlea family kindly loaned personal mementos to the exhibition, including photographs, letters of introduction and concert memorabilia, notably a full-sized original promotional poster for a farewell concert held for William prior to his departure for America in the 1950s.

The gramophone recital was a great success. Recordings of William, sourced locally through the late Jerry O’Callaghan and Timmy Ryan, were played to an audience that had not heard this wonderful tenor voice for over 50 years.
That Cork people generally have a love of good music and musicians was a point well proven by the attendance of over ninety people.

A petition drawn up at the recital resulted in Cork City Council passing a motion that a plaque commemorating Wallou’s life and achievements be erected in Blackpool. The recital concluded with Claire Dunlea, Bill's sister, presenting a CD of his most rare recordings to the the library's Music Archive, allowing Bill's unique talent tobe appreciated in Cork by future generations.

Advisory Panel for Cork Music Archive

Cork City Libraries are delighted that a panel of people have agreed to advise us on the development of the Cork Music Archive; a panel who between them cover the full breadth of musical activity - traditional, classical, jazz and contemporary.  The will provide expert advice on, amongst other things:
The nature of the Archive;

  • How the collection is to be properly established and managed
  • The long-term preservation of archival materials
  • The nature of Cork Music Archive’ presence on the web
  • Future-proofing: the steps we need to take to anticipate changes in formats etc.
  • The facilities we should have for the Archive in the new City Library building.

The members of the Panel are:

Name  Area of special knowledge 
 Chris Ahern New songwriters 
 Marcus Connaughton Rock, blues & roots music 
 Matt Cranitch Traditional music 
 Seamus de Barra Classical 
 Marie-Annick Desplanques Traditional, music archive practice 
 Sean Donlan Contemporary, pop and country 
 Philip Dunphy Marching bands 
 Eithne Egan Opera 
 John Fitzpatrick Choral Music 
 Tony Flaherty Traditional & roots music 
 Maeve Fleischmann Classical 
 Stevie Grainger / Stevie G Contemporary, hip-hop, electronic 
 Ron Kavana Traditional, songwriters 
 Mary Mitchell-Ingoldsby Traditional, emerging artists and educational
 Mary O'Driscoll Folklore, ballad makers 
 Eve O'Kelly Contemporary, pop 
 Brian Prendergast Military music 
 Jim Walsh Folk, traditional, festival 
 Mary O'Driscoll Archival practive, traditional