Image from the People's Museum of Limerick
Catherine Hayes was born in 1818 on Limerick's Patrick Street. She grew up in a single parent household after her father left when she was 5 years old. In spite of not being raised by the man, Catherine would go on to follow in his footsteps by pursuing a career in music.
By the age of 20 it was clear that Catherine was gifted with a beautiful singing voice. She began her vocal training at this time with the encouragement and financial aid of the Limerick Church of Ireland Bishop Knox. A year later she was sent to Dublin to train under the Italian composer and conductor, Antonio Sapio. While in Dublin she performed at fundraising concerts for the Rotunda hospital. The next phase of her training took her to Paris where she stayed from 1842 to 1843. She then finally completed her musical training in Milan.
Catherine's talents took her to many new and exciting locations. After her training in Paris and Milan she went on to perform in London, Boston, Washington DC, The Hawaiian Islands, Sydney, Calcutta, and Tasmania to name but a few. In 1849 she gave a private concert to Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace. She regularly returned home to Ireland and even performed in her native Limerick city. Though her extraordinary talents took her all over the world, she never wavered in her love for her homeland. She was known for her hauntingly beautiful renditions of classic Irish ballads.
Catherine's extraordinary journey from poverty to stardom came to an end in 1861 when she passed away in London at the age of 42.