'She felt compelled to make people feel better': Mourning the loss of Cara O'Sullivan

'She felt compelled to make people feel better': Mourning the loss of Cara O'Sullivan

The late Cara O'Sullivan performing in 2013 accompanied by Ciara Moronoey at a fundraising concert in St Mary's Collegiate Church, Youghal, Co Cork. Picture: John Hennessy

Whether she was in full flight in the serene surrounds of the Opéra National de Paris or Sydney Opera House, or in wellies on the pitch before a Munster Rugby match belting out their anthem, Stand Up and Fight, her world-class talent was recognised by all, and she was loved universally.

That love for internationally-celebrated soprano Cara O’Sullivan was reflected in the incredible outpouring of tributes yesterday following news of her death in Cork.

Ms O’Sullivan died surrounded by her family at Marymount Hospice on Tuesday afternoon less than a week after she was transferred there from Beaumont Residential Care, where she had been cared for in recent months as her early-onset dementia progressed rapidly.
She was just a few weeks short of her 59th birthday.

'I don’t think she ever said 'no' if she was asked to sing at a fundraiser or a function,' said Majella Cullagh, the late Cara O'Sullivan's friend and fellow opera singer. 	Picture: Denis Minihane

'I don’t think she ever said 'no' if she was asked to sing at a fundraiser or a function,' said Majella Cullagh, the late Cara O'Sullivan's friend and fellow opera singer. Picture: Denis Minihane

One of her closest friends, the soprano, Majella Cullagh, said that while there was a sense of relief that Cara has finally been released from her devastating illness, there was also an overwhelming wave of emotion, including anger and sadness, over the cruelty of it all.

“Her life was stolen from her. It’s as simple as that,” Ms Cullagh said.

“It’s difficult trying to describe the impact Cara had on us all — given all the components that made up her talents.

“There was layer upon layer — her world-class voice, her amazing technique, her musicianship, and artistry.

“Then on top of that, she had a heart as big as a mountain, a raucous sense of humour, an ability to connect with everybody across the board, and her incredible lifeforce, which was the power of her personality.

“She was one of the most courageous people I ever met. Cara faced a lot of adversity in her life and she constantly overcame that adversity, and carried on.

“But in the end, she was given something that she just couldn’t overcome. It’s a heartbreaking situation.” 

 The Lord Mayor of Cork, Joe Kavanagh, has opened a virtual book of condolence for Cara O’Sullivan. See below for direct link. Picture: Dan Linehan

The Lord Mayor of Cork, Joe Kavanagh, has opened a virtual book of condolence for Cara O’Sullivan. See below for direct link. Picture: Dan Linehan

Ms Cullagh said the range of tributes from so many people from the worlds of opera, theatre, politics, and sport, showed just how many people had been touched by Cara's talent over the years.

“She helped so many people, she shared her gift over and over and over again,” she said.

“I don’t think she ever said 'no', if she was asked to sing at a fundraiser or a function.

“And every time she sang, she gave 200%.

“She felt compelled to make people feel better. She was driven by this urge to make you feel better.

“Because of her world-class talent and her artistry, she came into contact with those in high office but she also had that authenticity.

“She was always totally herself and people connected to the uniqueness of that. She was real and grounded, so down-to-earth and people knew that."

President Michael D Higgins said news of her death had been received with great sadness by all those who love and appreciate music.

“Proud of her Cork roots, and ever generous to local groups, Cara O’Sullivan was a performer whose talents were recognised the world over,” he said.

“She will be remembered as one of Ireland’s greatest sopranos, and one who was ever generous to her colleagues.” 

In a tweet, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said Ms O’Sullivan had a beautiful voice and the warmest personality.

“Cork is very proud of her legacy and I will always value our friendship,” he said.

Church of Ireland Bishop of Cork, Paul Colton, described Ms O’Sullivan as “such an interesting and fun person with a glorious, heavenly voice”.

Lord Mayor Cllr Joe Kavanagh, who has opened an online book of condolence for Ms O’Sullivan, said people will cherish their memories of her and her performances over the years.

“Cara O’Sullivan was to music what Sonia O’Sullivan and Rob Heffernan and people like them are to athletics," he said. "She was a musical icon and she will be missed by so many." 

Ms O’Sullivan often sang the Munster rugby anthem, Stand Up and Fight, on the pitch before games, and she performed during the 2017 Freedom of Cork ceremony for Ronan O’Gara.

Mr O'Gara tweeted: “You will be dearly missed. Voice of an angel”, while Donncha O’Callaghan said they will never forget “the emotional energy” she created before the Munster games.

Ms O’Sullivan has been praised for her tireless charity work, and among the charities to pay tribute were the Cope Foundation, the Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind, and Brú Columbanus.

Another colleague and friend of hers, pianist and conductor Niall Kinsella described her as a kind human being with a powerful spirit, who carried her world-class talent lightly.

Pianist and conductor Niall Kinsella paid tribute to Cara O'Sullivan, describing her as 'a kind human being with a powerful spirit, who carried her world-class talent lightly'. 	Picture: Andy Jay

Pianist and conductor Niall Kinsella paid tribute to Cara O'Sullivan, describing her as 'a kind human being with a powerful spirit, who carried her world-class talent lightly'. Picture: Andy Jay

“She was a consummate artist and professional and an inspiration to a generation of singers and the Irish superstar of her generation,” he said.

“She was loved by and touched so many people. When we would go for lunch after rehearsing she couldn’t walk through the streets of Cork without the people stopping to say hi, nodding and smiling, she always graciously gave everyone her time.” 

He said the resonance of her voice rang gloriously through whatever space she sang in.

“When I played for her it was like a tidal wave that swept me along with her — it was truly visceral. Her artistry with word and phrase was so finessed and so honest. She never left details of the music or words pass her by. 

“On stage she was fearless. She loved the audience and the audience loved her.” 

The Irish National Opera artistic director Fergus Sheil said Ireland has been robbed of one of its greatest operatic talents.

“Cara possessed a voice of pure beauty. She had virtuosic skills and when she unleashed her vocal fireworks, she made time stand still.

“Cara’s voice had a liquidity and flexibility that could tackle some of the most demanding and glistening soprano repertoire. But her voice was only part of the attraction.

“Cara had a warmth to her personality that never failed to draw in audiences. She knew how to command attention, she strode onto the stage as though it were her own kingdom and she fed off the audience’s rapt responses.” 

Ms O’Sullivan is survived by her daughter, Christine, and siblings, Aoife, Nuala and Jim.

A private family funeral is being organised. It will take place in accordance with current HSE and public health guidelines, which limit attendance at funerals to just 10 people.

 

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