During the 1800’s , Ireland was blessed by claiming as her own, a young female singer who was so wildly applauded by her audiences that she was finally honored by being asked to perform at Buckingham Palace in 1849.
Indeed, on that evening, Queen Victoria and more than five hundred special guests were so impressed by her performances of Italian operatic arias, that having insisted on one more encore, they received a beautiful rendition of the old Irish air, “Kathleen Mavourneen”.
The Queen later confided to her personal diary her impressions of the young Irish singer and wrote a highly complimentary entry for posterity.
That young Irish female singer was Miss Catherine Hayes, who has been called “ Ireland’s First International Prima Donna.”
Catherine was born in Limerick in 1818. After some basic training and some local concert experience throughout Ireland, she auditioned for a very famous bass singer named Luigi Lablache and through him was invited to perform with the then young and brilliant pianist, Franz Liszt.
Following studies in Paris with Manuel Garcia, renowned as Europe’s greatest singing teacher, who also instructed the great Jenny Lind who was just completing her studies before her great tours of the new country in America, Catherine set out to take the opera world by storm.
Travelling to Italy, Catherine debuted at the great La Scala opera house in Milan and stole the show. The reports of her voice, intonations, range and presentation were always in the superlative and her rise to stardom was meteoric.
Yet, Catherine’s life was not always a “bed of roses” and her story is one that inspires and encourages all of us. When she was very young, her father deserted the family and the young Catherine worked as a charwoman at the home of Lord Limerick. While fulfilling her duties, the young lady sang to herself to help pass the time and one day was overheard by a certain Dr. Knox, the regional Church of Ireland Bishop, and the proverbial “the rest is history” is true in her case.
Catherine toured extensively in Europe, America and Australia. She performed for the royal family in Hawaii. In time, she became the highest paid singer of her day.
Catherine died in August 1861 at the young age of 43 and was buried in London. During her life, she was a very generous supporter of various charitable works in Ireland and abroad.