Sunday 18 November 2018

'Gifted musician and choir leader'

Pat O'Kelly

Father John O'Brien, Pastor Emeritus of St Canice's parish in Dublin's Finglas, whose death following protracted illness occurred last month, was a remarkable figure in the Dublin archdiocese.

Ordained in 1956, he left an indelible mark on a number of parishes.

Exemplary in his priestly duties, Fr John may be best remembered for reasons other than his sacerdotal calling. He was a highly gifted musician.

A shy man, who shunned public acclaim, he possessed an innate musicianship and the ability to communicate this to others.

Born in Kilrush, Co Clare in 1931, his musical interest was nurtured as home with his mother's violin playing.

He studied piano locally and while a professional music career was open to him he decided his vocation lay elsewhere.

He began his priestly studies at Dublin's Clonliffe College in 1949 and later, when posted as a curate to Glasnevin in 1957, Fr John set about augmenting the church choir and formed the Glasnevin Music Society.

In 1960 Dublin's Olympia Theatre invited the Society to undertake Benedict's 'The Lily of Killarney', with a cast including Veronica Dunne, Bernadette Greevy and John Carolan.

Then when Fr John was transferred to Naraghmore in Co Kildare, he built up the choir, installed a new organ and found time to assist the Curragh Musical Society.

Another transfer brought a radical change in Dublin's James's Street parish.

The organ was refurbished and the expanded choral group firmly established as the St James Choir. With Fr John's move to Westland Row, the St James Choir simply shifted base.

Heart problems forced Fr John to reduce his activities and, following a second attack in 1996, medical advice brought his retirement from big events.

In a fitting musical finale, he directed the 30th anniversary celebrations of the St James Choir at the National Concert Hall in November 1997.

The public bade farewell to a unique musician who inspired his singers, instrumentalists and even his critics. RIP.

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