1945, just after a rehearsal of the Palestrina Choir at St.
Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, the choir’s director, Dr.
Vincent O’Brien, fell into a conversation with one of
the curates, Father Andrew Griffith.
What if they could bring together the best singers of the
Catholic parishes of Dublin to form one great choir that
would perform large-scale oratorios? Dr. O’Brien expressed
a desire to conduct Handel’s Messiah one more time
before he retired. Perhaps the new choir could debut with
a performance of this piece, which had premièred
in Dublin in 1742.
Archbishop John Charles McQuaid gave his full support to
their idea. On 16 December 1945, the Amalgamated Catholic
Choirs of the Diocese of Dublin -- a choir comprised of
360 singers -- made its debut at the Capitol Theatre with
a performance of Handel’s Messiah, conducted by Vincent
O’Brien. Dr. O’Brien’s son Oliver conducted
the second performance.
Dublin audiences embraced the new choir. Eminent attendees
at the first performance included President Séan
T O’Kelly, Taoiseach Eamon De Valera and Alderman
PS Doyle, the Lord Mayor of Dublin.
Buoyed by its success, the choir was formally convened
in 1946 as Our Lady’s Choral Society, with Archbishop
John Charles McQuaid serving as President, Father Griffith
as Director and Vincent O’Brien as Chorus Master,
a position he held until his death two years later. Almost
immediately OLCS assumed its position as Dublin’s
The choir began a rewarding relationship with the national
radio service Radio Éireann in 1947, when its Symphony
Orchestra accompanied OLCS in the Irish première
of César Franck’s Les Beatitudes, conducted
by Jean Martinon.
Another milestone was the choir’s first performance
of Verdi’s Requiem on 3 October 1948. In 1952, the
choir undertook another ambitious work: The Dream of Gerontius
by Edward Elgar. After nine months of rehearsal, OLCS performed
the work under world-renowned conductor Sir John Barbirolli,
accompanied by Barbirolli’s own Hallé Orchestra.
The performance was a triumph.
In June 1961, Princess Grace and Prince Rainier of Monaco
were deeply impressed by a performance of the Berlioz Requiem
by OLCS. They invited the choir back to Monaco, where OLCS
performed Beethoven’s Choral Symphony in the Courtyard
of the Royal Palace, sharing the bill with violinist Yehudi
In April 1966, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the
Easter Rising, OLCS sang A Terrible Beauty is Born, a specially
commissioned cantata by the Irish composer, Brian Boydell.
Over the years, Sir John Barbirolli had become, to quote
former Chorus Master Oliver O’Brien, “a true
inspiration and greatly loved friend of OLCS”. Barbirolli
served as guest conductor on a number of occasions, including
the concerts in the National Stadium to mark the choir’s
25th anniversary in 1970. These performances of Elgar’s
The Dream of Gerontius and Verdi’s Requiem were the
last choral concerts he conducted.
In 1976, Oliver O’Brien’s work with the choir
was recognised by Pope Paul VI , who made him a Knight of
St. Gregory the Great.
When O’Brien retired in 1979, after 34 years of service
with the OLCS, Proinnsías Ó Duinn was named
the new Music Director of OLCS.
At this point of transition, the choir’s leadership
realised that if OLCS were to achieve a professional standard,
the choir would have to become more self-critical. It decided
each member would be re-auditioned every three years. This
policy, which continues today, allows the Music Director
to maintain the balance and quality of the choir.
A new version of Our Lady’s Choral Society appeared
in the early 1980s. The number of singers had been reduced
from over 300 to 120. Under the musical direction of Ó
Duinn, this leaner choir was able to focus on major oratorios
as never before.
In September 1981, as part of the celebrations that marked
the opening of the new National Concert Hall in Dublin,
OLCS performed Beethoven’s Choral Symphony, accompanied
by the RTÉ Symphony Orchestra.
The choir marked the 250th Anniversary of the first performance
of Messiah with the first of its “Messiah in the Street”
performances in Fishamble Street in April 1992. In May the
same year, Trinity College Dublin celebrated its 400th anniversary.
OLCS was one of the choirs that made up the 1000 singers
who performed Mahler’s gigantic Symphony No. 8 at
the Point Theatre.
In celebration of its 50th Anniversary in January 1995,
OLCS embarked on what is surely one of the most ambitious
challenges ever undertaken by an amateur choir in Ireland:
it performed the two oratorios of Elgar, The Apostles and
The Kingdom on consecutive evenings, as the composer had
In February 2009, Our Lady’s Choral Society had the distinction of being the first choir to perform Handel’s Messiah in the Vatican. The choir was invited to perform the oratorio in the Paul VI Audience Hall for Pope Benedict XVI and an audience of 6,000 on the occasion of the 80th Anniversary of the Vatican City State.
Today, Our Lady’s Choral Society holds a unique place
in the diverse, cosmopolitan city that Dublin has become.
Under the guardianship of the Archdiocese, OLCS welcomes
members from all religions and all walks of life. And for
many people living in Dublin, the Christmas season simply
does not begin until they've heard at least one performance
of Handel’s Messiah by Our Lady’s Choral Society.