At Christmas Cork soprano Cara O'Sullivan's divine talent merged heaven and earth

The annual festive tradition of hearing Cara O’Sullivan sing at St Francis Church will live forever in the memory, says DEBORAH HICKEY, writing in this year's Holly Bough
At Christmas Cork soprano Cara O'Sullivan's divine talent merged heaven and earth

Opera singer Cara O'Sullivan, who sadly passed away earlier this year. Picture Dan LInehan

“O HOLY night. The stars are brightly shining. It is the night of the dear saviour’s birth.”

Every family has its festive traditions, essential elements without which Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas.

Since her childhood, beloved Cork soprano Cara O’Sullivan sang with the choir in St Francis Church on Liberty Street. Continuing the tradition of her own parents, each Christmas Eve vigil mass and Christmas Day midday mass, she gifted the people of Cork her heavenly voice.

These joyous celebrations became an essential festive element for many a Corkonian. On rare occasions in life, we encounter a beauty that moves us in ways we can barely even comprehend; the heart soars in its ineffable presence. Cara’s majestic voice was truly one of life’s great wonders.

St Francis Church would fill to capacity, and with that wonderful sense of occasion that only comes at Yuletide. Among the congregation, Christmas joy can take many forms. A child, born in a stable, brings light and hope into the world. Families reunite and, if only for one day, give each other the precious gift of time. Anxieties of making it onto Santa’s ‘good’ list are now in the past as a prized toy is clutched proudly in small hands. Heightening all these emotions, Cara’s divine voice seemed to embody all that is wonderful, beautiful and magical in the world.

The crest of this wave of emotion would rise, as Cara, and the choir, introduced O Holy Night, the central theme of this timeless Christmas carol being hope. “Long lay the world in sin and error pining, ’til he appeared and the soul felt its worth.”

Out of the darkness, the stars shone brightly to illuminate the world’s rebirth, just as out of the bleak, isolating wintertime, Christmas shines its warm, beguiling light on us, giving cause for celebration and congregation.

Quiet contemplations of another year gone by would float silently in the church, as Cara’s voice gathered momentum: “A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.” And thrill she would.

Collective emotional energy soared along with her voice as it seemed she had merged heaven and earth: “Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices, O night divine, O night when Christ was born.”

When those final top notes were catapulted heavenward-bound, there was no need to imagine what the angel voices may have sounded like on that holy night so long ago, because there was the sense that here, in the glorious surroundings of St Francis Church, hidden from view in the gallery, an angel was elevated above the congregation.

Throughout her successful career, which saw her perform all over the world, Cara remained a self-confessed ‘home-bird’. The iconic opera star spoke of her love of the travel her international career afforded her. but admitted she was always glad to go home. While her talent captivated audiences, wherever she performed, her vivacious personality made her a diva of the people.

Cara’s warmth, generosity, charisma and humour removed any barriers that may have been associated with operatic greats and their audience. In Cork, she was simply one of our own, proud of her city, and accessible to all.

As we go through life, Christmas grows ever more bitter-sweet. Joyful memories intermingle with sorrow; the ghosts of Christmas past and present walk side by side.

With Cara’s untimely passing flowed an outpouring of grief on Leeside, nationwide and beyond. We grieved for Christine, Cara’s beloved daughter, we grieved for those close to the beautiful soprano, and we grieved, also, for our own loss.

Cara told the Irish Examiner in 2015 how important it was for her to observe her parents’ tradition of singing in St Francis Church at Christmas. “I always get very emotional and it brings back lovely memories. It’s important not to forget.”

Her vibrant spirit and immense talent could never be forgotten. Treasured memories of our very own star, so brightly shining, are unforgettable.

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