Fiona Molloy was born and raised in Derry, Northern Ireland. She started playing piano and “…singing entire songs before I could talk!” Fiona started her musical studies under the tutelage of her grandmother Martha McGuinness (nee McDaid), a voice and piano teacher, and her father John Molloy, a classically trained baritone. At about the age of 12, she went on to train with Derry’s famous vocal coach James McCafferty (The Little Gaelic Singers), winning many commendations and medals in both voice and piano at local and national feis’ (cultural competitions) all over Ireland. In her mid-teens, Fiona began classical voice training with Neil Carlin (retired Opera Singer, Vienna Opera), a regimen she credits with “allowing me to be 45 years old and still singing 4 hours at a stretch alone”.
Around 16 years of age, Fiona discovered guitar, joined the Thornhill College Folk Group, and began studying stage technique with Tony Johnson, Eurovision Song Contest Winner Dana’s vocal coach. “I finally knew what I wanted to do”. Talent shows and local concerts were soon added to the young singer’s experience.
In 1975, with the continuing “troubles” in her native province of Ulster, Fiona was approached by local city councilor Danny Feeney and the Peace Women of Derry, who asked her to sing at a local Peace Rally. At the famous rally on the Craigavon Bridge, Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan of the Northern Ireland’s Peace People asked Fiona to join them as the movement’s singer, to represent the youth of Northern Ireland.
For the next 18 months, the young Derry girl traveled with them throughout Ireland, England, Scotland, and Wales, singing at rallies and conventions and appearing on television and in newspapers. In Germany, while on the Peace Rally Circuit, Fiona entertained German Dignitary Anna-Marie Renker at the Bundestaag in Bonn… the only singer ever to do so. Fiona, “Derry’s Songbird of Peace” (Daily Mirror, London) traveled to Norway with the delegation on the Peace People to accept the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976. When the rallies ended with a huge finale at Trafalgar Square in London, onstage with folk legend Joan Baez, Fiona sang before a crowd of 200,000 people. In the singer’s own words, “It is a part of my life that I feel someone else must have lived.”
Staying in London in the months following the end of the Peace Rallies found her contracted to a major recording label, who promptly dropped her when their main London office was bombed. Northern Ireland was never far away! Hansa, a German record company, signed the young singer and recorded the “Peace Song” (as it had become known) on their label. A stab at London’s theatre district landed her the job of 2nd understudy to Elaine Page of the original cast of Evita, a job she lost within weeks for not being a British Actor’s Equity Member.
Discouraged, the young singer returned home to Northern Ireland where her aunt from America was visiting. Suggesting that her niece return with her to the U.S.A. until the fall college semester would begin, Fiona left Shannon Airport for JFK, New York. “I never looked back,” she said. “Stepping off the plane in New York City on July 31st, 1977, I knew that this was where I wanted to be for the rest of my life!”
New York to Wisconsin
Staying briefly in NJ, where she was offered a few local gigs for the Monmouth Co. Irish Federation and the Friendly Sons of the Shillelagh, Fiona struck out for the ‘Big Apple’, landing a singing job almost immediately in Danny Boy’s Restaurant and Bar in Manhattan, soon followed by the famous old John Barleycorn. Both restaurants were blocks from the U.N. building and on the edge of mid-town Manhattan’s hotel district. Gigs for some of NY’s top events started to come the singer’s way.
Tom Slattery, president of the New York Liquor Dealer’s and Restaurant Owner’s Association, called the Derry singer “the Irish Kate Smith”, inviting her to sing at the Association’s annual dinner for many years (see the Venues list on the webpage).
Former Mayor of New York Edward Koch had Fiona sing at a reception in Gracie Mansion (official residence of NYC mayors) for guests Paul Simon and Carrie Fisher. One March saw her aboard the Trump Princess for Donald Trump and guests. An appearance at The White House soon followed for President Ronald Reagan and his wife.
Once, while singing at an informal gathering at the United Nations Building, a photographer approached a group of African dignitaries seated near the makeshift stage where Fiona had just finished a performance, and asked for a picture. As the group posed for the journalist, the chanteuse realized she had been singing for none other than Nelson Mandela!
Singing the American National Anthem at a major ballpark, is a job any singer would be proud to do, and something that Fiona Molloy has done twice at New York‘s Yankee Stadium and once at Shea Stadium. When NYC honored the first president of Ireland, Eamonn DeValera, by naming the corner of Lexington Ave and 51st St. for him, the young Derry woman was again asked to entertain and sing the American National Anthem.
“One of the most nerve-wracking gigs of my life was when I played at the Manhattan Irish Consulate for a reception for the British Consulate General. Every cable we plugged in acted as a conduit for radio stations in the high-rise building. We hadn’t even switched on and here was this awful middle-eastern music coming through our speakers. We ended up singing and playing without amplification. “
The list of functions, bars, restaurants, charity shows, etc., is endless in this shy woman‘s career. Marriage and the birth of her first child Christopher saw the busy singer’s schedule slow down considerably. A short 8 months after the birth, vocal polyps (one of them pre-cancerous) saw the Derry singer silenced for almost a year. Struggling back to singing, Fiona found she could not sing 4 hours at a stretch anymore. Her once strong voice was “weak and unpredictable”. Singer/Songwriter Jack Owen from Liverpool, England, invited Fiona to tour with him in the UK (singing gigs are about 1 hour and 45 minutes in length there), which she did, regaining strength and confidence. Jack Owen returned to the U.S.A. to appear with Fiona, singing over half the gig-time involved. The Irish singer was soon back at work!
In 1992, Fiona’s second child Nicholas was born with multiple handicaps. Singing became “almost impossible”, says Fiona of her schedule, which dwindled to almost nothing for over three years. As Nicholas‘s health improved, Fiona once again tried to pick up where she had left off. It wasn‘t hard; this was a performer whom people remembered and loved.
With the sudden death of Nicholas in January of 1997, followed by her divorce and the deaths of her beloved parents a year apart, Fiona Molloy disappeared from the Irish Music scene.
During the interim years Fiona simply says, “I had lost my heart, and with it the joy required to sing. I just couldn‘t do it”. She taught music for 4 years to the children of the Seton Foundation for Learning, Joan Ann Kennedy Memorial Preschool of Staten Island, where son Nicholas had been a student, while studying towards a B.ED at the College of Staten Island, CUNY, garnering the prestigious Kennedy Fellowship Award CUNY in the course of her studies.
Friends, fans and fellow musicians wouldn‘t let Fiona remain silent. Longtime friend and employer Alan Craig (former proprietor of the Irish Times and Finnegan‘s Wake, FL) persuaded the singer to appear at Finnegan’s Wake in Key West. The new owners, John and Jean Dillon, quickly offered the singer a contract she has had to the present day. Fellow musician and friend Seamus Kennedy finally got Fiona to return to the recording studio, and the CD ‘Gentle Memories’ was the result of his efforts; in it were Fiona‘s heart-wrenching tributes to family and friends, finally allowing the singer to move on.
In June of 200l, Fiona moved to Wisconsin to join fiancé Walter Lepperd. A new life and the pastoral serenity of Wisconsin have given the singer the peace and stability to continue singing. Local gigs at the North Prairie’s Harvest Festival, Oconomowoc‘s The Pub, and Waukesha ‘s The House of Guinness were quickly followed by requests from the USCG Auxiliary to appear at venues throughout Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana, starting with a change of command at the Milwaukee Yacht Club. Fiona has now appeared at The Milwaukee Irish Fest 2002 and 2003.
In the military and tourist town of Key West, Fiona continues to entertain the men and women of America’s military in Finnegan’s Wake Irish Restaurant and Eatery. Some of Fiona’s most treasured souvenirs are the letters of commendation and thanks from JIATF and other agencies for her part in the Memorial Service for the USS Maine, family days aboard the USCG Thetis and USCG Mohawk, charity events for the U.S. Navy League, and an acoustic concert for the National Park Service (Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas).
Of her life now Fiona says, “I am happy, I am still singing and am once again in love. Life moves on and so must I. I have been given a gift that has directed and shaped my life since the age of three. I am 45 now and I find myself wondering… what the hell is going to happen next?”
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