The rags to riches rise of Catherine Hayes
Limerick born soprano Catherine Hayes was feted the world
over. Known as the Limerick Nightingale, her story is one
of rags to riches. Eugene Phelan states that, 151 years
after her death, her tomb in London is falling into disrepair.
The Mayor and people of Limerick were urged to put in place
arrangements whereby the remains of our most famous soprano,
Catherine Hayes, could be flown home to be laid to rest
Retired Limerick builder, Michael OLeary, who now
lives in London, told this week of his sadness when visiting
the grave of Catherine Hayes at Kensal Green cemetery, London.
She was the greatest soprano Ireland has ever produced
and is sad to see her grave the way it is, said Mr
OLeary a native of Thomondgate.
Born in 1825 she performed at La Scala, Milan, and in Vienna,
Venice, New York, California, South America, Australia,
India and other parts of the world before dying tragically
after bursting a blood vessel at just 36 years of age.
She was known the world over and received rave reviews wherever
Her remains, along with those of her husband, are buried
in London under a white marble sarcophagus with claw feet
surrounded by pillars, but the tomb has fallen into disrepair.
Michael says it would be proper to have her remains brought
back to Limerick and laid to rest in St Marys Cathedral
or some other burial ground.
I am not sure if she has any relations and if she
has they may have some opinion on this, he said.
Born at 4 Patrick Street, according to some sources in 1818,
and others in 1825 the story of Catherine Hayes is a real
rags to riches tale.
Her mother was a housekeeper and her father a bandmaster.
Catherines father left the family when she was just
five years old.
Young Catherine often followed her mother to work, house
keeping for the Earl of Limerick. On one of these visits
the Church of Ireland Bishop of Limerick Edmund Knox overheard
the young songstress in the garden and was so impressed
he arranged for her to sing in private houses.
From there, Bishop Knox and his wife Agnes set up a fund
to train her voice professionally in Dublin. After three
years she went to study in Paris, making her debut performance
Her career skyrocketed, with tours across Europe, America
and Australia. She even sang for Queen Victoria before 500
people at Buckingham palace performing her own favourite
This bright light of opera eventually came to an end when
Catherine died of a stroke. But although her life was short,
she lived it to its fullest. Her life was one of excitement,
success, fame and fortune.
Ms Hayes was an instant hit in grand opera and was sought
after by Verdi. Across Italy and France, in Vienna and beyond
her fame spread, and she soon found herself doing an extensive
tour in America, later Peru, Chile and even Australia.
Basil Walsh in his biography, Catherine Hayes - The Hibernian
Prima Donna, notes that there is an article in Limerick
City Library - undated and from an unknown source - which
states that a Laurence Phillips of Dublin paid a sum of
money to clean up Catherine Hayes grave in Kensal
Green cemetery, London.
It states that this was done and all that remained
was to collect sufficient funds to ensure that it never
fell into disrepair any more.
It has fallen into neglect and the marble monument
is in danger of falling into the tomb underneath,
Mr Walsh notes that the article states that Mr Phillips
was an occupational therapist at St Itas Hospital
in Dublin, but that no one there had ever heard of him.
The profession dates from only 1950, so its
relatively recent, and Mr Walsh goes on. Now,
it seems there was a Laurence Phillips who was a resident
(ie patient) at this mental hospital. Did someone use his
name and fraudulently collect funds?
Was the article a hoax?
- courtesy of Eugene Phelan, The Limerick Leader