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Obituary: Patricia Cahill, accomplished singer who enjoyed deserved fame on stage and television


Patricia Cahill's career soared to great heights, but she kept her feet firmly on the ground

Patricia Cahill's career soared to great heights, but she kept her feet firmly on the ground

Patricia Cahill's career soared to great heights, but she kept her feet firmly on the ground

Patricia Cahill, the well-loved Irish singer, died in Marbella, Spain, on May 11 after a short illness. She was 80. Known as “the Irish Nightingale”, she enthralled audiences for years with her sweet voice and beauty. She had a very pleasant, gentle demeanour on stage and people warmed to her.

Her last professional appearance was in the Gaiety Theatre in 1999. She sang in a tribute night for Maureen Potter, organised by Riverdance producer John McColgan. As she walked on stage, elegant as ever with her brunette hair still shoulder-length, she was in fine musical form. There was great affection for her.

For many years, she had starred with Potter as a principal boy in the pantomimes and in the Gaiety’s summer variety show — Gaels of Laughter — which included their famous “moonlight and roses” sketch.

“We rehearsed that item in the ladies’ loo of the dress circle in the Gaiety, just looking in the mirror and doing our own little dance,” she told Mary Kennedy on RTÉ’s Nationwide. “Nobody saw us rehearsing. When we opened with it on opening night, the applause was thunderous. The audience just loved it. It was a reaction from an audience that I had never experienced. It was so spontaneous. There was something about it. It brought people back to a certain time in their lives.”

She credited Maureen for her encouragement. “I came to the Gaiety from the Olympia and she said, ‘This is where you belong.’ It was a lovely welcome for me. She was a great example for anybody who worked in the theatre. She was a huge star but you never would think that talking to her. When she was off the stage, she was off the stage. It was a different life.”

Cahill had the same modest manner. Her career soared to great heights, but her ego never followed.

Patricia Cahill was a big star. She performed in Carnegie Hall, the Royal Albert Hall, had residencies at the Savoy Hotel and the Waldorf Astoria and she featured in Leonard Sachs’s hugely popular The Good Old Days. In 1973, she sang ‘I Don’t Know How To Love Him’ live at Sunday Night at the Palladium in London. After her song, the show was stopped and the building evacuated. The police had been told of an IRA bomb scare.

“She was a classy broad,” John McColgan says. “I was a fan before I worked with her. She was an intelligent woman with a great sense of humour and a terrific voice.”

He made two TV series of Patricia, his first light entertainment show for RTÉ. They recorded an album with musical director Noel Kelehan and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra. Patricia had been singing Irish songs such as ‘Danny Boy’ and seeing her versatility, John suggested she do some modern popular songs — like ‘Evergreen and ones by The Carpenters. It worked.

Born in Ranelagh, Dublin, to Daniel and Mary Cahill, Patricia was the youngest of five children. The family moved to Mourne Road and all of Patricia’s childhood memories were from Drimnagh. She sang in the Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel from an early age and was a regular mass-goer.

“I owe so much to the Sisters of Mercy nuns,” she said. “When they discovered I had a voice, they did everything to help me.”

She became a boarder in St Mary’s College in Arklow, Co Wicklow, run by the same order, and her singing flourished. She took lessons with Daniel McNulty, and then starred in Monday night shows in Our Lady’s Hall, Drimnagh. On leaving school, she was all set to start work in the ESB office in Fleet Street in the city, but she decided to do one of the weekly open auditions at the Theatre Royal first.

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“If you were successful, you got a week in the Theatre Royal. That was all I wanted to do. So I went in with my mother and sang ‘The Fairy Tree’,” she said. The manager, Phil O’Donoghue, thought it was great but not quite suitable for the Theatre Royal. He asked her to learn ‘This Is My Beloved’ from Kismet instead.

A few days later, she received a telegram. She was to call the Theatre Royal. Jack Cruise was looking for a girl singer and she was asked if she would like to join him for his big show. “I had never heard of Jack Cruise and he had never heard me sing. It started off my ambition to sing for one week and it started a lifetime of singing.”

It was her first job and she was getting £10 a week. Years later, she did sing ‘The Fairy Tree’ there and got a great response. Her time at the Theatre Royal was the best training ever. After the audience of 4,000 people there, nothing could daunt her.

She met Ciarán O’Carroll, an architect and talented pianist, and they fell in love. She described their wedding day as the luckiest day of her life. He became her manager and often performed with her. Years later, they went to live in the south of Spain. They had two children, Daniel and Madeleine.

“He was a lovely guy, full of the joys of spring. We didn’t just love each other, we were in love with each other all our lives. I used to say, ‘I am so happy, something is bound to happen’ and it didn’t for 44 years and suddenly it did when he got motor neurone disease.” He died in 2013.

Patricia was a down-to-earth person but very private. She enjoyed her life in Spain. She spoke Spanish and took part in the life there, enjoying the weekly markets. She still kept in touch with Ireland.

In 2015, Drimnagh Residents’ Association celebrated their 80th anniversary and they presented her with a plaque in honour of her achievements in Our Lady’s Hall. “It all started here,” Patricia said. “I had the most wonderful career. I couldn’t have wished for more.”

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