seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA

Death of Singer Delia Murphy Kiernan

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delia-murphyDelia Murphy Kiernan, singer and collector of Irish ballads, dies of a massive heart attack on February 11, 1971, five days before her 69th birthday. She records several 78 RPM records in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. In 1962 she records her only LP record, The Queen of Connemara, for Irish Prestige Records, New York, on the cover of which her name appears alongside the LP title. Her notable voice gives her the nickname the “Queen of Connemara.”

Murphy is born on February 16, 1902, in Ardroe, Roundfort, County Mayo, to a well-off family. Her father, John Murphy, from nearby Hollymount, makes his fortune in the Klondike Gold Rush. While in America, he marries Ann Fanning from Roscrea, County Tipperary. They return to Ireland in 1901 and purchase the large Mount Jennings Estate in Hollymount. Murphy’s father encourages her interest in singing ballads from a young age. He also allows Irish travellers to camp on the estate. According to her own account, she learns her first ballads at their campfires.

Murphy is educated at Presentation Convent in Tuam, Dominican College in Dublin, and University College Galway (UCG), where she graduates with a Bachelor of Commerce degree. While at UCG she meets Dr. Thomas J. Kiernan, and they marry in 1924, on her 22nd birthday. Kiernan then joins the Irish diplomatic service, where his first posting is to London. While there Murphy sings at many venues including many gatherings of Irish emigrants and becomes quite well-known. In 1939 she records The Blackbird, The Spinning Wheel, and Three Lovely Lassies for HMV.

In 1941, Kiernan is appointed Irish Minister Plenipotentiary to the Holy See in Rome. The Irish legation is the only English-speaking legation to remain open after the United States enters World War II. Murphy becomes one of those who assist Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty in saving the lives of 6,500 Allied soldiers and Jews. In 1943, when Italy changes sides, many escaped POWs are helped by the legation to leave Italy.

In 1946, Murphy is awarded to Dame Commander of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre.

Kiernan later serves as Irish High Commissioner and later first Ambassador in Australia, and later to West Germany, Canada, and the United States. In 1961, while living in Ottawa, Murphy makes the recording of The Queen of Connemara produced by Ken Goldstein. Murphy and Kiernan purchase a farmhouse in Jasper, Ontario, near the Rideau Canal where she spends most of her time, even after Kiernan is posted to Washington, D.C.. Tom Kiernan dies in December 1967.

By 1969 Murphy’s health is in decline. In November of that year she sells her farmhouse in Canada and returns to Ireland. She lives in a cottage in Strawberry Beds, Chapelizod, County Dublin, until her death. During her lifetime she records upwards of 100 songs.

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