Mary McPartlan - 1955-2020
Irish folk singer Mary McPartlan passed away in Galway on 6th April at the age of 65 after a battle with cancer. In addition to her singing, she was also a TV and theatre producer, a scholar, an arts administrator, a trade union activist, a Galway Simon Community director, and a supporter of many other political causes.
Mary was born and brought up just outside of Drumkeeran in Co Leitrim. She began her singing career as part of the duo, Calypso, in the 1970s. Moving to Galway, she played a big role in the arts scene there, and went on to be the founder of Galway’s Riabhóg Singers Club and of the Skehana Theatre Company. She also worked as a producer for different television and stage shows including the TG4 series, Flosc, and a traditional Irish music show in Las Vegas in 2003.
Known for her enthusiasm to support artists in the best and most innovative ways, she helped develop the concept behind Ireland’s national traditional music awards, now the TG4 Gradam Ceoil awards.
In 2004, at the age of 50, she released her debut album, The Holland Handkerchief, which was voted MOJO magazine’s folk album of the year. In 2008 came Petticoat Loose and then, in 2016, she released her last album, From Mountain To Mountain, which came as a result of her 2013 Fulbright scholarship which allowed her to research the songs and legacy of Jean Ritchie and the shared histories of Appalachia and Leitrim.
Mary also co-wrote (with Colin Irwin), produced and sang in She Moved Through the Fair: The Legend of Margaret Barry – a tribute to the Irish traveller, singer and banjo player who graced several stages in recent years.
In addition, Mary was the creative director of the Arts in Action programme at NUI Galway, whose professor of drama and theatre studies, Patrick Lonergan, described her as “a renowned singer, highly respected producer, and mentor of other artists, who was also an inspirational educator and a person of unique kindness, good humour and fortitude.”
A personal friend of Irish President Michael D Higgins, he said of her: “Acutely aware of the history of Irish music, song, dance and culture, Mary McPartlan brought the truth of emotion and empathy to her singing, and her acclaimed debut album, The Holland Handkerchief, established her as one of the greatest traditional singers of her generation.”