The Palestrina Choir had its origins in a boys' choir formed in the 1890's by Dr. Vincent O'Brien, then a music teacher at St. Mary's Place Christian Brothers School in Dublin. It was at a performance of Palestrina's Missa Papae Marcelli at St. Teresa's Carmelite Church in Clarendon Street in 1898 that this choir, and its gifted director, first came to the attention of Edward Martyn.
*The choir in 1970 with director Oliver O' Brien.
Martyn was born to a family of Catholic landed gentry in Tulira Castle, Co. Galway in 1859. He was educated in Belvedere College, Dublin, Beaumont College, Windsor and Christ Church, Oxford. He is perhaps better known for his involvement in the Irish Literary Theatre, later to become the Abbey Theatre, which he co-founded in 1898 with W. B. Yeats, Lady Gregory and George Moore. However, his interest in establishing a national theatre was matched, if not exceeded, by his interest in the reform of liturgical music in Ireland. During his university days, he travelled extensively in Europe, where he was struck by the quality of the choirs he heard in the great cathedrals there. He was determined that the Catholic Church in Ireland should have music of an equivalent standard.
In particular, he wished to promote the music of Palestrina, espoused by Pope Pius X as the standard to which all liturgical music should aspire. Between 1898 and 1902, Martyn worked tirelessly to establish the choir at St. Mary's, offering an endowment of £10,000 (in current terms about €1 million) on the condition that Dr. O'Brien be appointed choirmaster. An agreement was signed on November 26, 1902, and the Palestrina Choir was constituted and installed in the Pro-Cathedral January 1, 1903.
In the century or so since its foundation, the Choir has had only seven directors. Vincent O'Brien, director until his death in 1948, was succeeded by his son, Oliver. 1978 saw Fr. Seán O hEarcaigh take over from Oliver while four years later Fr. O hEarchaigh was succeeded by Ite O'Donovan. In 1996 Comdt. Joseph Ryan directed the choir before Órla Barry became the next director. Five years later – in 2002 - the current director, Ms. Blánaid Murphy took on the mantle.
The celebration of the Palestrina Choir’s Centenary Year in 2003 highlighted the immense contribution made by it to the Pro-Cathedral, the Archdiocese of Dublin and the nation during its first 100 years.
While maintaining an unbroken tradition of service at the Sunday liturgy at the Pro-Cathedral, the Choir has also performed at numerous State occasions, featured on radio and TV nationally and internationally and has travelled extensively. In recognition of this, in December 2003, the Choir was awarded the much-coveted St Cecilia Award by the Vocal Heritage Society of Ireland.
In June 2004 the Choir represented Ireland in Bratislava at the closing of Ireland's EU Presidency. In 2006 the Choir undertook a major tour to Poland and Czech Republic as well as a monthly series of Mozart Masses at the Pro-Cathedral, with full orchestra, and
a launched a CD - The Bells of the Angelus
– to critical acclaim.
In 2007 the Choir continued its busy schedule performing once again at the Bach Cantata series in Dublin and at the Dun Laoghaire Organ Festival. The Choir also toured to London with performances at Westminster Cathedral, the Brompton Oratory and Worth Abbey. In 2008 they toured to Germany singing in Limburg and Köln Cathedral while 2009 saw an extensive tour to the north of England.
Since 2002 the Choir has been directed by Blánaid Murphy, one of the foremost choral music directors in Ireland and under her guidance it continues to thrive and develop. There are currently over 40 boys in the Choir, and there is huge competition for annual entry. If nothing else, this confirms the current strength and positive future of the Palestrina Choir into its second century at the Pro-Cathedral.
It is difficult to imagine the Pro-Cathedral without the Palestrina Choir.
For over 100 years choir members and their families have brought vibrancy to the life of this cathedral church. The echoing of boys at rehearsal provides a regular, gentle, meditative background for the many who pray in the church in afternoon and evening while the sound of the boys at play provides a welcome youthful enthusiasm. Thrice-weekly rehearsals lead to melodious harmony and choral excellence, though only this level of commitment from the Boys, Gentlemen, Director and Assistants can achieve it. All are directed towards the worthy celebration of the Sunday Eucharistic Liturgy, ‘the summit towards which the activity of the Church is directed the fount from which all her power flows’.