Delia Murphy, 'Ballad Queen', People from Co. Mayo

Nicknamed the "Queen of Connemara", Delia Murphy was born in Claremorris on Feb 16, 1902. She was a famous singer with a very distinct and notable voice and she was an ardent collector of Irish ballads. Her father, John (Jack) Murphy, was a native of Hollymount who made his fortune in the Klondike Gold Rush. During his time in America, he married Ann Fanning from Roscrea, County Tipperary and they returned to Ireland in 1901. He then purchased the large, Mount Jennings Estate in Hollymount, County Mayo.

Ballad Singing

From an early age Delia's father encouraged her interest in singing ballads. John Murphy was a wealthy, but benevolent man, and he allowed travellers (gypsies) to set up camp on his estate. As a young girl Delia befriended the travellers and often sat around their campfires with them. One of these travellers, Tom Maughan, who was around her own age, introduced Delia to ballad singing. She attended the local primary school at Robeen where she was further encouraged to sing and she was continually getting new songs from her father, from books and from people in her home village. Delia was educated at Presentation Convent, Tuam and the Dominican College, Dublin, where she struck up a lifelong friendship with the singer Margaret Burke Sheridan. She later attended University College Galway, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce degree.

Dr TJ Kiernan

Whilst attending UCG she met Dr Thomas J Kiernan and they married in 1924, on her 22nd birthday. Kiernan then joined the Irish diplomatic service and his first posting was to London. In London Delia began to sing at diplomatic gatherings and exiles’ parties and through this she befriended the great singer, John McCormack and became very well known in her own right.

Irish Ambassador

Delia and Tom had four children and throughout her life Delia balanced writing, recording and performing her songs with a hectic life as the wife of one of Ireland’s most celebrated ambassadors. In 1939 she recorded three songs for HMV - The Blackbird, The Spinning Wheel and Three Lovely Lassies - with which her name became synonymous. In 1941 Kiernan was appointed Irish Minister Plenipotentiary to the Holy See in Rome. From the 1930s to the 1960s Kiernan was posted to various Irish embassies around the world and he and Delia lived in London, Rome, Canberra, Bonn, Ottawa and Washington.

1951 - 1955

Between 1951 and 1955 she returned to live in Ireland, and it was in that period that she became a singer and performer in her own right. She began touring Ireland, giving concerts in local halls and by 1952 she was performing in England, where her songs, particularly The Spinning Wheel, and The Moonshiner, were to be heard regularly on BBC radio.

Canada

Later, when the family moved to Canada she bought a house in the country near Ottawa, where she spent most of her time. In 1961, while living in there, Delia recorded "The Queen of Connemara" for the Kenny Goldstein label. It was the only LP she ever made.

During her illustrious singing career Delia made records in London, Dublin and New York, performed regularly in concerts and on radio and appeared in the film The Island Man, filmed on the Blaskets. Delia Murphy was a popular extrovert, who liked and was liked by many people. Throughout her years of travel and living abroad she always proudly called Mayo ‘home’ and her diplomat husband promoted modern Ireland abroad in countries like Australia and the USA, home to so many people of Irish descent.

Tom died in 1967 and by 1969 Delia's own health was in decline. In November of that year she sold her farmhouse in Canada and returned to Ireland where she bought a cottage in the Strawberry Beds, part of the suburbs of Chapelizod, in Dublin. Delia Murphy, the "Queen of Connemara" died of a massive heart attack on 11 February 1971. She had recorded over 80 songs. In a fitting tribute to Delia, Liam Clancy (of the Clancy Brothers) once said: "I think her main contribution was that she made us all feel that we could respectably sing our own (Irish) songs" .