Hayes, Catherine (1818–61), soprano, was born 25 October 1818 at 4 Patrick St., Limerick, younger of two daughters of Arthur W. Hayes, a bandmaster with the local militia, and Mary Hayes (née Carroll) who worked in the household of the earl of Limerick. The Rev. Edmund Knox, the anglican bishop of Limerick (1834–49), recognised Hayes's vocal talents at an early age. He arranged for her to go to Dublin in April 1839 to study with Antonio Sapio, a prominent voice teacher, with whom she worked for three and a half years. During this time she sang in various concerts in Dublin, Limerick, and Belfast; the celebrated pianist Franz Liszt was the star performer at one of the Dublin concerts (12 January 1841). On the advice of the basso Luigi Lablache, she went to Paris (October 1842) to study with the singing teacher Manuel Garcia. A few weeks before her arrival, the soon-to-be-famous Jenny Lind had completed her vocal studies with Garcia. After eighteen months, Hayes moved to Milan to take coaching lessons from Felice Ronconi, a professor at the Milan conservatory. Her mother travelled with her everywhere. Hayes made a successful debut at the Italian opera in Marseilles, France, on 10 May 1845, in Bellini's ‘I Puritani’. Donizetti's ‘Lucia di Lammermoor’ and other roles followed. She made her debut at La Scala, Milan, on 4 November 1845, in Donizetti's ‘Linda di Chamounix’.
During the next few years she performed in opera in Milan, Venice, Florence, and other cities, including Vienna. She premièred works by various composers in Milan and Venice. Giuseppe Verdi showed an interest in her for a new opera in 1847. She later sang the Italian première of Verdi's ‘I Masnadieri’ with great acclaim on 26 December 1847 in Verona. She also sang ‘I Masnadieri’ in Florence and Genoa. While in Italy she frequently sang under the name ‘Caterina Hayez’. Hayes made her debut in London at the Royal Italian Opera, Covent Garden on 10 April 1849 in ‘Linda di Chamounix’. On 2 June she participated in a concert of Italian music at Buckingham Palace for Queen Victoria and her guests. When asked for an encore by the queen, she sang the song ‘Kathleen Mavourneen’! She performed in several other operas during this period, including ‘Lucia di Lammermoor’ and the London première of Giacomo Meyerbeer's ‘Le prophète’. Towards the end of 1849 she returned to Ireland, where she made her operatic debut in ‘Lucia di Lammermoor’ at the Theatre Royal, Dublin (6 November); she also sang in Limerick and Cork. In March 1851 she was awarded a diploma from the Accademia di Santa Cecilia after a season of opera in Rome. On 14 September 1851 she arrived in New York, gave several concerts, including a benefit for the well known Irish total-abstinence campaigner, Fr Theobald Mathew (qv). After completing a concert tour of forty-five cities, she arrived in San Francisco on 20 November 1852. The San Francisco tour was organised by P. T. Barnum, whose contract with Jenny Lind had just ended.
Over the next four years Hayes embarked on a musical tour of the Pacific, first travelling to Peru and Chile in 1853. In 1854 she sailed for Australia, visiting Hawaii on the way and arriving in Sydney on 14 September. She also visited Calcutta, Singapore, and Java, after which she returned to Australia for more concerts and opera. She arrived back in London (August 1856) with her manager, the former Barnum representative, Connecticut-born William A. Bushnell, whom she married on 8 October 1857. Bushnell died the following year, from consumption; he was 35 years old. Some months after his death, Hayes went back to singing in England and Ireland. While visiting friends in Sydenham, Kent, on 11 August 1861, she died from a stroke. She was 42 years old and a very wealthy woman. She is buried in Kensal Green cemetery, London. Her mother died ten years later and is buried with her.
Hayes had over thirty-five roles in her repertoire. She sang the title role in ‘Lucia di Lammermoor’ over 120 times. Her voice was reported to be more than two octaves in range up to a high D. Her concerts usually included Italian arias and Irish songs, for which she became renowned. The song ‘Kathleen Mavourneen’ was her signature piece. She also sang extensively in oratorios. She was the first European opera-singer of importance to perform in Australia. Among other distinctions, she was also the first Irishwoman to sing at La Scala, Milan, and at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, London.