Sister Acts

Carmen Cullen on bringing four generations of female artists together for one celebratory night.

Her gravestone in her native County Mayo simply reads Delia Murphy Ballad Queen 1902-1974.

Which says it all without saying very much at all, Mayo’s Delia Murphy Kiernan (she was married to Dr. Thomas J. Kiernan, Irish Ambassador to Rome from 1941 to 1946) was a pivotal figure in the revival of Irish ballad singing, with her hugely popular 78rpms in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s culminating in her only LP, 1962’s The Queen Of Connemara.

Delia had a sister, Angela, who was also a singer, her career tragically cut short on January 18th 1955 when she died shortly after giving birth to her fifth child.

And now, one of those children, Carmen Cullen, has put together a show celebrating both women whilst bringing in the next two generations to explore the importance of art in a family.

Coming to The Whale on Saturday, April 16th, here’s the Murphy gang to explain more…

My aunt and I, 4 Generations is the culmination of a series of shows run and created by Carmen Cullen over a long number of years. Carmen has been involved in theatre all her life. For the past ten years she has been taking part in a show that celebrates her aunt, the iconic singer, Delia Murphy.

Carmen sings Delia songs in this show and also tells her story. During Covid-19 lockdowns, Carmen produced a series of extraordinary YouTube video poems. In this she was branching into unknown territory, there are now 41 of these videos to be explored on YouTube.  To do this she enlisted the help of Bray photographer Deirdre Ridgeway and Bray musician Gerry Anderson, along with videographer Conor McGowan. The poems follow a trajectory that began off with her first novel, Two Sister Singing. Her second novel Hello Love, tells the story of her world up until she was aged four. The Pandemic Poems follow on from these two novels, when as a young teenager she leaves County Tipperary.

And this latest work from Carmen comes round full circle as part of her new show, My Aunt and I: 4 Generations. The idea for the show is an old one. It reflects on the importance of tradition and continuity in the arts and on creativity down through generations of family life.

Carmen‘s mother was a singer. Her name was Angela Murphy. She was a sister to the legendary Delia Murphy, and has been a guiding light in Carmen‘s life even though she died when Carmen was four. The poems reflect the changed times directly after her mother’s death, and how that period affected her and influenced her growth. For Carmen, it is extremely important for her that her mother was an artist. It has kept her motivated to follow in her footsteps.

It is her way of keeping the memory of her mother alive.

The show at The Whale on April 16th has many strands. It reflects on Carmen’s own life as a writer and singer.  It engages with the achievements of both Delia and Angela Murphy, and the contribution they made to Irish music and song. Delia has been credited as being one of the founding members of the Irish folk revival of the mid-20th century and is well known for such ballads as The Spinning Wheel and If I Were A Blackbird, with Liam Clancy acknowledging that she was a major influence in his life and gave him the courage to perform and believe in Irish ballads.

Delia was a voice on Irish radio that expressed the true sentiments of Irish people when there was quite a lot of pretension and efforts to maintain correctness in programme presentations. She spoke and sang in a natural way in her own Mayo accent. It was very refreshing at the time and pointed the way to creating a confidence and real belief in what it was to be Irish.

Other people involved in My Aunt And I: 4 Generations are Carmen’s teenage granddaughter Rhianna Ni Rodaigh, plus her own daughter, Jeni Roddy. Jeni is a full-time artist celebrated for her work with The Wexford Opera as Head of Costumes.  The show brings all these talents together to display and reflect on the importance of artistic inheritance in family life. There will be a linking story to add distancing to the poems, performed by Rhianna and Jeni’s comments on having a mother who was always a writer, in Jeni’s growing up times.

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