From the 1690s, British anti-Catholic legislation had denied the Irish Catholic church a public presence; not until the 19th century did the church regain public influence and standing. From 1860 foreign organists were brought to Ireland by the bishops to develop Catholic church music as no Irish tradition had survived the Penal Laws and there was no institution in the country to train church musicians.
The first continental organist to be appointed to the Cathedral of St Mary and St Anne in Cork was the Belgian, Léopold de Prins, who held the post from 1870 to 1889; his brother Francis was organist in Limerick. They both built up excellent choirs, were members of the Irish Society of St Cecilia, which advocated reform of church music: the use of plain chant and of appropriate non theatrical music for church service. In 1876 they founded a journal to further their cause.
De Prins’s Belgian successor, de Paine, stayed in Cork for a year; he was followed by a German, Hans Conrad Swertz . Swertz became organist at the Cathedral in 1890 and held the position until he decided to leave Cork and take up a post as organist at the Visitation B.V.M. Church in Philadelphia.
Herr Aloys Fleischmann took up the position of organist & choirmaster of the Cathedral in 1906. The Cathedral choir under Herr Fleischmann became one of the finest Cathedral choirs in Europe. Herr Fleischmann remained in charge of the choir until his retirement in 1961. He died just three years later in 1964.
young Spaniard, Senor Angel Climent, was appointed successor to Herr Fleischmann. By coming to Cork, Climent had missed his compulsory national service in the Spanish army. Climent explained the situation to the Cathedral authorities, and he left for Spain and army service in 1964.
Angel Climent was succeeded by Edward Evans in 1965. Mr Evans, who had been a member of the Cathedral choir himself, took charge and was to remain in the position of choirmaster for twenty two years. He conducted a choir with average membership totaling seventy.
1990 was a time for new beginnings and the first mixed voice choir was established under the direction of John O Brien, who also conducted the North Monastery Boys choir during his time in Cork. Margaret Hickey was church organist during this period until her death in 1993. The choir attracted young and old from the parish and indeed other parishes in the diocese. Sr. Perpetua O'Mahony, a presentation sister, led the choir for a short period until Ann Roche was appointed musical director in 1993.
Ann was joined by organist Joe Higgins in 1994. Ann and Joe have led the current choir through many liturgies and concerts. The choir sang at many fundraising concerts with Cork Sopranos Majella Cullagh, Mary Hegarty and Cara O Sullivan. In 1999 the choir had the privilege of singing for the televised Easter Ceremonies on R.T.E. and had the great honour of singing at the requiem mass of former Taoiseach Jack Lynch in October of the same year..
The current Cathedral Choir is still in the capable hands of Director Anne Roche & Organist Joe Higgins. The repertoire now includes ancient & modern arrangements in Latin, Irish & English. The choir has 25 members, and rehearse each Tuesday evening in the presbytery library