Catherine Hayes was a world-famous soprano singer from Ireland.

Born in Limerick, she was given the opportunity to study in Dublin, Paris and Milan,

where she performed at the famed La Scala Opera House

and collaborated with Giuseppe Verdi on his latest work.

She also sang in London and performed for Queen Victoria and 500 guests at Buckingham Palace.

Catherine was described as “sweetly-sung” with a “highly impressive vocal range”,

an “emotional, moving actress”, and “very graceful on stage”.

Catherine toured the world for 5 years

While in the United States she met William Avery Bushnell of Connecticut, a former agent for Jenny Lind, the “Swedish Nightingale”. She turned management of her tour over to him, and also working with P.T. Barnum (who had promoted Jenny Lind), Catherine performed at 45 locations in the US.

She was billed as “The Swan of Erin” and “The Hibernian Prima Donna”.

1851 in Boston she sang for Daniel Webster and his family.
1852 in Washington DC she sang for the president of the United States and his family.
1853 in the Goldfields around Sacramento she sang for the miners and diggers.
1854 in the Hawaiian Islands she sang for King Kamehameha II with great success and amusement.
1854 in Sydney, Australia she became the first great European opera singer to perform there.
1855 in Calcutta, India, she entertained the British Army and their wives with great éclat.
1855 in Hobart, Tasmania she gave concerts with great success.


Catherine sang in San Francisco from November 1852 to May 1853, where she was said to have made $40,000 at the time – about $1.4 million in 2021; the ‘semi-civilized’ gold miners bidding over $12.50 ($400 in 2021) to hear her sing. Many saw her perform multiple times. She visited mining camps and even tried her hand at gold panning. She sang at the American Theater and the Alta Theater in Grass Valley. Kate Hayes Street in Grass Valley is named for her.


 The newspaper wrote, “Hayes’ voice broke forth in notes of most bewitching sweetness and harmony. The excitement of the audience increased to a furious extent, no doubt with proud ratification that they had heard for once in their lives, the voice that had awakened the admiration of the western world.”

Catherine Hayes married William Avery Bushnell on October 8, 1857, at St. George’s, Hanover.

However, William soon fell very sick, and died in France at the age of 35 the next year.

Catherine continued to perform in concerts in London and surrounding countryside towns

until her death, just 3 years later.

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