Remembering Hayden Cudahy

Once she reigned over the Irish American airwaves as the queen of Irish radio with her weekly Sunday evening broadcasts as recently as 1990 in the metropolitan New York.

Dorothy Hayden Cudahy, the hostess of Irish Memories, the radio program she inherited from her Kilkenny-born father James Hayden, an early activist is Irish American programming himself, passed away on August 6 at the age of 88.

She was part and parcel of many Irish households for decades, providing a slice of life in the community through its music, chat, advertisements and event happenings.

The show had a 60-year run with Dorothy at the microphone solely for 47 years with a memorable voice that informed and entertained so many Irish Immigrants longing for connections with the Old Country as it was commonly referred to back then.

My Clare-born parents, who were regular listeners, huddled around the radio attracted to her steady and up to date store of traditional Irish music featured more on her show than others in town, in part because of her own Sligo roots (through her mother Delia Brennan) and her marriage to Inagh, Co. Clare descendant John Cudahy, with whom my father shared many a connection from that parish.

Regular visitors to Ireland and extremely active in the Irish American community, the Cudahys seemed to have the pulse of everything Irish in New York City and all the latest recordings from both sides of the ocean.

Hayden Cudahy lived a historic social and professional life, being the first female meter maid in New York City and the first woman president of the Kilkenny Association.

Most significantly, she became the first female grand marshal of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City in 1989 which was an epic tale on its own given the histrionics of the parade history in the 1980s and 1990s when democracy and attempts at equality reared its unwelcome head upon the host committee.

In the continuum of Irish music in New York City, she played a vital role in exposing new recordings and artists during a very important period when radio was a key medium.

From the Clancys to the Bothy Band to Planxty along with old time favorites like the McNulty Family and Paddy Noonan, she kept people entertained over that seminal hour interval and help create audiences for their appearances.

She was on top of her game in local radio, with keen connections in Ireland that helped raise the profile of traditional music from the Tulla and the Kilfenora Ceili Bands and very importantly for Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann, its annual touring ensembles and records featuring many musicians who went on to make their mark in the wider world of trad music.

Dorothy was predeceased by her husband in 1994 and their son Sean in 1997, and was buried in Calvary Cemetery not far from their Queens home. May God be good to her and thanks for all those valuable Irish Memories of long ago.

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