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Sunday 15 December 2019

Maureen Hurley

Acclaimed harpist became an icon of Bord Failte at home and abroad and one of television's pioneers, writes James J Gibbons

Maureen Hurley, of Merrion in Dublin 4, who died last month aged 85, was best known as an international harpist and a television producer.

There were many other strings to Maureen's harp. The moral theologian Fr Vincent Twomey said at her funeral that he hoped that she "may continue to make music to God in eternity".

In the Fifties and Sixties it was a photograph of Maureen playing the harp that adorned Bord Failte's posters throughout the Continent and in America. Her face promoted Ireland at railway stations at home and abroad.

Her beautiful profile was often remarked upon in the artistic community. Austin Clarke's poem The Planter's Daughter is apt.

"Men that had seen her drank deep and were silent. The women were speaking wherever she went."

The arts committee of the United Arts Club, which Mary sat on, convenes intermittently and is independent from the general committee.

Membership of the committee, invariably chaired by the president of the club or the well-known artist Carmel Mooney, is by invitation as opposed to election by members.

Maureen's brief was music. Like a wise sage from the East, she also opined on any other matters which were brought up for discussion.

The club had one of its tribute dinners for Maureen in 2003, where she followed in the footsteps of the likes of Jack Yeats.

She had a keen interest in the arts and was knowledgeable about painting and sculpture, as well as music.

In her early life, Maureen was a European concert harpist and was guest soloist with the Symphony Orchestra.

The September 1959 edition of Gramophone introduced music from "a new Irish singer in Maureen Hurley who sings 18 Irish songs and ballads, mostly traditional, and which takes its title of 'Tis pretty to be in Ballinderry from one of them. Ireland is rich in singers of her native music and Miss Hurley is among the most charming of them both in voice and in style. No accompanist is named so I assume that she plays the harp herself; she is also responsible for most of the arrangements."

After a meeting with Fr Sidney McKeown, she was introduced to the BBC Music Department and worked there. Television, in the guise of Telefis Eireann, began to transmit here on New Year's Eve, 1961.

Hurley was also the first production assistant appointed by the national broadcaster in September of that year.

She worked alongside the likes of Sheila Richards and Christopher FitzSimon.

She was an active member of the Rathmines and Rathgar Musical Society and a member of the choir of University Church on St Stephen's Green.

In the last years of her life, Maureen required assistance. She needed a carer and what she got was a friend in the guise of Sarah Belton.

It was another friend, Charles Byrne, who whispered into Maureen's ear that she was about to go to God, and she relaxed.

Her brother Donal, who died in 2007, was an Irish diplomat based in Iran and France. Her sister Peggy, a secretary to a Professor in TCD, died 11 months ago. She is survived by her brother Paul, SVD, Maynooth; sister-in-law Mme Francoise Hurley and nephews Paul Hurley and Columban Hurley.

Sunday Independent

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