Mary Black Family History


Mary Black was born on May 25th, 1955 to Kevin and Patricia (Patty) Black on Charlemont Street in Dublin, the third of their five children.  Although their home was in a poor working class neighborhood, Mary had a happy childhood.  She began singing traditional Irish songs at the age of eight. As she grew older, she would perform with her siblings in small clubs around Dublin.

She joined a small folk band in 1975 with whom she toured Europe and released two albums.  Small things led to bigger things when she started her solo career, culminating in the success of her 1989 album No Frontiers.  This put her in the front rank of popular Irish singers.

There is music and singing throughout the Black family.  Her younger sister Frances has a solo career, her elder brothers Shay and Michael formed the Black Brothers, and Mary’s children are continuing this tradition.

The Black Family and Rathlin Island

Mary Black’s birth may have been in Dublin, but her roots through her father are in Rathlin, a remote island off the northernmost tip of county Antrim.  Her Black name has been there for more than three hundred years, possibly longer.  The other notable families on the island were the McCurdys and the English Gages who owned Rathlin but only stayed there for the birds.

Rathlin was an important producer of kelp in the 18th century.  But when that industry declined people started to leave.  Margaret Black who married a McCurdy departed for Virginia in the 1760’s; while Neil Black who also married a McCurdy departed for Maine in the 1840’s.  Black families who remained in Rathlin were recorded in the 1850’s at Ballygill and Kinramer on the northern tip of the island.

Kevin and Patty Black

Kevin Black was born on Rathlin island.  Music had been in Kevin’s family and they had been in high demand for celebrations and ceilidhs on the island in the 1930’s and 1940’s.  Kevin then moved away to the glens of Antrim to work in the building industry.  After he lost his job there he moved to Dublin to get work as a plasterer.

In Dublin he met Patty Daly, working at that time as a factory girl.  She had a passion for music and dancing and would often frequent the music halls and theaters of old Dublin.  She and Kevin hit it off and they married in 1949.  In his spare time from plastering, Kevin would play the fiddle while his wife sang at local dance halls in Dublin. That was where Mary and her siblings got their musical upbringing.

A Visit to Rathlin Island

Mary Black’s grandmother was still living in Rathlin when Mary was growing up in her working class area of Dublin.  She remarked:  “I even believed that we belonged to the privileged class as we went to visit our grandmother’s farm every summer knowing that most kids in Dublin had never seen a cow.”

About Rathlin her sister Frances recalled:

“We’d be up very early to get the train to Belfast and then it was several bus journeys to Ballycastle.  From there you could see the island.  The final part of the journey was a very treacherous boat trip.

The farmhouse was at the upper end of the island.  So my aunt would pick us up in her car.  At the farm there were cows, sheep and chickens everywhere. I’d get up early each morning to help milk the cows and then I’d spend the day exploring the island.

The house is still in the family.  I go there three or four times a year.  It’s my spiritual home, a haven and retreat.  There are now only about eighty people left on the island.”

Mary Black’s Family Tree

  • Kevin Black from Rathlin Island m. Patricia (Patty) Daly in Dublin in 1949
  • – Shay Black (b. 1951)
  • – Michael Black (b. 1953)
  • – Mary Black (b. 1955)
  • – Martin Black (b. 1958)
  • – Frances Black (b. 1960)
  • Mary Black m. Joe O’Reilly in 1980
  • – Conor O’Reilly
  • – Danny O’Reilly
  • – Roisin O’Reilly (Roisin O)



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Written by Colin Shelley

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