Museum Week – Marie Narelle, The Australian Queen of Irish Song

It’s the third day of Museum Week, a 7 day online celebration of museums, galleries and cultural institutions around the globe. This year’s theme is ‘Women in Culture’, and over the 7 days a different lifestyle topic will be used to explore and expand upon this year’s theme. Today the focus is on music. Follow the discussions as part of Museum Week online and on social media with the hashtags #WomenMW and #MusicMW.

“The Australian Queen of Irish Song” was the name given to singer Marie Narelle, born in 1870 in New South Wales to parents of Irish descent.

Singing at local charities, Narelle made a name for herself locally, and eventually, internationally. Unfortunately, her husband Matthew Aloysius Callaghan had a drinking problem – leaving her to fend for her and her three children. With few opportunities to make a living for her family in Sydney, she became a music teacher at Candelo, visiting her pupils on horseback.

Soon, her talent for singing was recognized, and Marie Narelle or ‘Molly’ began performing the Scottish and Irish ballads which would make her famous. In 1902, she left Australia to sing in Ireland at the close of the Cork Exhibition, then moved to London to study music and Irish. Here she reached one of the pinnacles of her successful career, sharing the stage with Dame Clara Butt and Ada Crossley at the Royal Albert Hall. Narelle then went to America with her manager and became a principal performer in the Blarney Castle Theatre at St. Louis’ World Fair in the Irish exhibit.

LISTEN: Hear Marie Narelle perform ‘Wearing of the Green’, recorded in 1905.

Following her eventual divorce from O’Callaghan in 1909, Narelle moved to New York City where her warmth and passion contributed to her popularity.  In particular, she was famous for the welcome she extended to Australian soldiers during the First World War.

Missed the first part of our special blog series for Museum Week? Read our first article on Isabella McDougall here, and our second piece on Sarah Durack here.