Professor Gerard Gillen writes:
It was early in 1973 that Sean Rothery of Pearse MacKenna Architects approached me requesting my advice on acquiring a pipe organ for the new church, then at an advanced stage of completion. It appeared that a wealthy parishioner had left a reasonable sum of money to be devoted to this project.
I naturally responded with enthusiasm as I saw this as a rare opportunity to install an instrument of quality and worth in one of our new Catholic churches in the greater Dublin area, most of which had been built over the previous 25 years or so with electronic installations or poor quality extension-type pipe organs.
As I saw it, here was a rare opportunity to do what had been done in the previous decade in the UK, and bring something of contemporary continental thinking - which incorporated a rediscovery of the baroque aesthetic - to the modern organ in Ireland. Unfortunately, as the church was already at an advanced stage of design and actual construction, it was not possible to design specifically a place for the proposed organ and feature it architecturally, as it were, in the design of the church’s interior. However, there was a possible space for the instrument’s location, and on this basis I approached and sought tenders from a number of continental firms, a lengthy process, which eventually resulted in the contract being awarded to the Austrian firm of Rieger Orgelbau.
The result was the fine 26-stop two manual and pedals instrument which presently so imposingly and strikingly adorns the interior of the church. The total cost of the instrument was IR£17,000. Even by the cost standards of its time, this must rank as one of the ecclesiastical bargains of the 20th century! It was the first all-mechanical action organ to be built in Ireland for almost 100 years, and the first new organ to be based on neo-baroque aesthetic principles of design and construction. The instrument, a sister to the new organ in the then newly-built Cathedral of the Clifton Diocese in Bristol, was an immediate success, both in terms of its visual impact and in terms of the clarity and incisiveness of its individual voices and the cohesiveness of its ensemble.
Its installation was greeted with warmth and enthusiasm not only by the priests and parishioners of St Michael’s (who saw it as a fitting adornment and aid to good liturgy), but by the general music public in the Dublin who viewed it as a real cultural addition to the city’s musical life.
From its commissioning I saw that here we had the possibility for a really substantial annual series of recitals. The location of the church and instrument in the well-established and much favoured holiday resort of Dun Laoghaire presented an opportunity that could not be missed. Thus was born the annual series of weekly summer concerts. The inaugural recital was given by the distinguished Belgian organist, composer and teacher, Baron Flor Peeters in June 1974. Since then the series has run weekly for the three summer months of June, July and August, playing host to many of the greatest world names in organ playing, while providing a regular platform for the best of Ireland’s own organ talent. There has been no doubt that the series has promoted interest in the ‘king of instruments’ among the widest possible circle of music lovers and stimulated interest in studying the instrument among some who have gone on to distinguished membership of the profession. From the beginning in 1974 the series received vital support from the then parish priest, the late Father Christopher Mangan, a support that has been continued by each succeeding parish priest in turn.
The series is Ireland’s longest running organ recital series and one of the longest running concert series in Ireland’s musical diary.