Maria was a happy child and sang all day long before she could even speak properly and delighted everyone around her.
However, one day she could no longer see what the teacher was writing on the board. When she was 9, she went blind. On the same day she found out that she had inherited this rare strain of blindness from her father’s genes, she also learned that he was not Patrick the hardworking plasterer she had always known as ” dad”. Her real father was a Spanish Sailor, maybe he was even Zorro, little Maria imagined.
There were very few people in Ireland who had Maria’s rare disease. Instead of becoming inconsolable, the courageous Maria saw her little self as special, as a star, someone with a future. To her, it was like her life was a movie, and she was the star of her own sparkling silver screen. Others did not think like Maria and many tried to convince Maria and her mother that as a blind girl there were few paths open. Maria would prove them wrong time and time again. For her, the only major tragedy was not being able to see the face of her beloved mother.
At age 10, Maria was sent to Sr. Mary’s Institution for the Blind in Clondalkin, 40 ans miles from home, and felt depressed for the very first time. She didn’t even want to sing, her very raison d’être had been compromised. Maria knew she absolutely had to act. She planned her escape on foot and miraculously returned home with every Garda in the country looking for her.
It’s the spirit of steel behind Cailín’s sweet, beautiful Irish face. Maria was already voted one of the ten most beautiful women after representing Ireland at Eurovision Song Contest in 1985 and came in 6th and is still beautiful.
Maria put her singing career on hold after meeting Emmanuel, her handsome French husband, in Dundalk and they moved to France where they have now lived for 28 years in Lorraine.
Like many members of the diaspora, she emigrated from Ireland for a new future. When she arrived at Paris Gare de l’Est station in 1992, she barely spoke a word of French. In the station, there was absolutely no sound that she recognized. As she stood next to her husband, with their material possessions in two suitcases, it was as if she had landed on another planet.
There, on that platform, she swore “she wouldn’t be just another foreigner” and she said to herself “Maria, you’re going to do in France exactly what you did in Ireland – Everyone here get to know your name ”.
The bookies reportedly said the odds were slim of that happening – a blind lady, arriving in a foreign county with barely a word of the tongue – but they wouldn’t have reckoned with Maria! Like the song about another Maria, this one was also ready to “climb any mountain”.
Maria started making a name for herself in France initially thanks to her seven beautifully bred and wonderfully talented children. Six of them are musicians and one a ballerina. I often think of Maria, this woman living in the dark, and how she created so much light around her. She has written her book “One cannot see well with the heart” (Plon, translation 2018: “One can only see clearly with the heart”) and gives motivational speeches and conferences in schools and companies. She often tells people “if a 9 year old blind little girl could keep doing what I did, so would you”. In the book, she wrote about her dream of representing France at Eurovision Song Contest. Now these lines seem prophetic.
Even though she was not performing, Maria still sang every day, and just three years after arriving in France, while pregnant with her second child Shannon, she wrote a song with French lyrics of a exquisite beauty. She also composed the melody herself. She thinks that “the song came to me from Edith Piaf. This is the song that Maria will sing for the National Competition in France and in Rotterdam if her dream comes true.
I recently spoke with Maria about a Zoom in her honor organized by the Irish Literary Circle where HE Ambassador Patricia O’Brien in France delivered the opening remarks.
She said seeing Maria singing “Amazing Grace” during the lockdown of French frontline workers gave such hope in these times of extreme loneliness. O’Brien considers Maria to be a wonderful representative of Ireland, being so musically talented, yet a reminder of Ireland’s uneducating past, like the Magdalene Laundries.
She is also representative of so many diasporas who have left Ireland but never lost connection. Maria was awarded a French medal for being an exemplary mother of seven and O’Brien said she had retained her Irish while fitting in perfectly with French life.
Meet Maria Doyle: Inspirational mother of seven living in 🇫🇷, who lost her sight at age 9, represented Ireland at #Eurovision 1985 at 19 and competed in the semi-finals of the @ TheVoice_TF1 this year🎤 @CIrlandais @Irish_in_France
Find out more here👉🏼 https://t.co/s3o6zDiKEf pic.twitter.com/kMLsshnWli
– Irish Embassy in Paris (@IrlEmbParis) October 16, 2020
Like everything in Maria’s life, her relationship with the Irish Embassy in Paris in 2017 started on a magical note. She chatted with Deaglan Mac An Mhanaigh qui avait lu « Finnegan’s Wake ”to a standing ovation. She told him that she was a singer and that she would like to sing. He made a bet on her and led her up to the embassy spiral staircase where she stood on the steps and sang “Danny Boy.” She felt like she was singing for Ireland again and at this time she felt that all the generations that had left Ireland, the living and the dead, were standing at the bottom of the embassy stairs listening to her.
Over the past two years things have changed dramatically and developed at an incredible rate for Maria. In 2019, she reached the semi-finals of “The Voice France”, where she sang “Danny Boy”, as well as “Hymne D’amour” by Edith Piaf. Some of her children have played with her and she is delighted that they have these memories.
With dual nationality, she feels so proud to be both Irish and French. Proud of her home country and her adopted country, which has been so kind to her and she rejoices to be a link between the two countries of her heart.
Now Maria’s great luck has come. She was selected as a possible candidate for “Eurovision FRANCE 2021” – the winner will represent France at Eurovision Song Contest in May 2021 in Rotterdam. She was already representing Ireland, and now her dream of representing France seems within reach.
It seems those unlikely words that a young woman said to herself 28 years ago in a remote train station: “Maria, everyone here is going to know your name” is about to come true.
Her beautiful song of love and peace that takes you by the hand through the beautiful streets of Paris has been ready for 25 years – but it’s actually more fashionable and applicable today than when she wrote it.
In the midst of the pandemic, we need a real fairy tale and it to come true.
Diaspora, let’s live this magical and inspiring story together. You can follow and support Maria Doyle on her Facebook page and on the Eurovison 2021 news site.
This article was submitted to the IrishCentral contributor network by a member of the global Irish community. To become an IrishCentral contributor, click here.