Murphy, Delia (1902–71), ballad singer, was born 16 February 1902 at Ardroe, Claremorris, Co. Mayo, second of eight daughters of John (‘Jack’) Patrick Murphy of Mayo and Anna Agnes Murphy (née Fanning) from Tipperary. Her father worked in the gold mines in Klondike, where he met and married Anna; they returned to Ireland in 1901 and after residing for two years at Ardoe they purchased Mount Jennings House, Hollymount, Roundfort, near Claremorris, the local ‘big house’ and farm. Delia was educated at the local primary school, then at the Dominican convent, Eccles St., Dublin, where she was taught singing by Mother Clement Burke along with her contemporary Margaret Burke Sheridan (qv). She dated her introduction to traditional Irish ballads from her primary school days to the ballads she learned from Tom Maughan, a local tinker boy who taught her to sing ‘If I were a blackbird’. While studying for a commerce degree at UCG she sang at student concerts and later at private parties and minor concerts. She married (24 February 1924) T. J. Kiernan (qv), civil servant. Shortly afterwards, Kiernan was appointed secretary to the Irish high commission in London, and during their time there their four children were born: Blon, Naula, Colm, and Orla. In 1935 the family returned to Dublin where Kiernan took up the post of director of broadcasting at Radio Éireann, which he held on secondment till 1939. During these years Delia's singing career reached its heights, when she recorded almost 100 songs with HMV. From this time till the mid 1950s she was the most important exponent of Irish ballad singing to reach an audience on an international scale. She broadcast numerous times from Radio Éireann, becoming a household name among people starved for Irish music. She wrote many of the songs herself and attributed much of her inspiration to tinkers' songs. Among other songs she made famous were ‘The spinning wheel’, ‘I'm a rambler, I'm a gambler’, and ‘Three lovely lassies from Bannion’.
She accompanied her husband on all his postings. In 1941 Kiernan was appointed Irish minister to the Vatican. The family was there when the Germans took over and later when the allies arrived. The Irish legation, situated at San Martino della Battaglia, was converted by Delia into a refuge for clergy, seminarians, and women religious. She kept open house, holding wartime ‘musical’ evenings every Thursday night. Unknown to her husband she was an accomplice of Mgr Hugh O'Flaherty (qv) in smuggling escaped prisoners of war and other allied personnel into the Vatican City, often using the legation's car to drive escapees through checkpoints. The British war office recommended after the war that she be decorated; the honour was reluctantly turned down. In 1946 the Holy See made her a Dame of the Holy Sepulchre. 1946 saw the Kiernans posted to Canberra, Australia; 1952, Bonn, West Germany; 1957, Ottawa, Canada; 1961, Washington, DC, USA. Delia did not spend a lot of time in Washington, and lived on the family farm in Ottawa. It was while they were in Washington that Delia recorded her last record, The queen of Connemara, the only LP she made. When her husband died (December 1967), Delia stayed in Ottawa and it was there that she gave her last concert, at Camp Fortune in the Gatineau Hills. In November 1969 she sold the farm and returned to Dublin, where she purchased Liscannor Cottage, Chapelizod. In January 1971 she made a surprise appearance on the ‘Late late show’ on RTÉ. She died in St Kevin's Hospital, Dublin, on 12 February 1971. In 1981 a memorial in her honour was erected by ‘neighbours, relatives, and friends’ at Annefield Crossroads, near Mount Jennings House.