Maura was such a dear friend. She was an amazing singer-songwriter, and I was always touched and honored when she would come to my apartment and play music with me. We shared being Irish Catholic, living in New York, having sisters, seeing the dark behind the light. I wrote a song, You’re the Sea, and Maura sang on the recording.
One summer morning Maura and I went to the Irish Hunger Memorial in lower Manhattan. There was a slight drizzle, and the fog rolling up the Hudson obscured the tallest buildings, enhancing the feeling we’d stepped out of time, out of New York. We walked through the ruins of a stone cottage, up the winding path through a field to the hilltop.
“Feels like Ireland,” she said.
“Because of the weather?” I asked.
She nodded. “And because every stone, every plant on the memorial comes from the different counties, all thirty two of them.”
She carried a certain knowledge, a bone-deep connection with that memorial. It symbolized suffering, and striving, and Maura’s love of Ireland. Maura had a heart unlike anyone I’ve ever known. She felt other people’s pain right through her skin, and it came out in her songs. She found a great songwriting partner, John Bertsche, and to hear her describe their sessions, there was something mystical at work.
Maura’s music broke your heart. She sang with such deep emotion—every song. And it was real, as if she was truly reliving the experience about which she sang. She loved fiercely, starting with her family. She spoke of her mother so often, with great devotion. I remember when she played “Our Lady of Fatima” for me, telling me she’d written it for her mother.
She loved her sisters, and her cousins, her dearest friends, her writing partner. All of that love poured into her music, yet there was often a sense of loss, or melancholy, an unspoken understanding that nothing, not even the strongest love could last forever. She grasped the truth of impermanence. Some songwriters compose around it, but Maura faced it head-on. Perhaps it was her father’s death that taught her, or perhaps it was just that Maura was an old soul.
A mutual friend says Maura had the voice of an angel. She did, but not your every-day-pious white-winged Seraphim. Her voice broke with emotion. She was an angel of the Bronx. I think of Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris’s Grievous Angel. For Maura and her work with John, it was more like Heartstruck Angel, Devastated Angel, take your pick. Her voice was like no other, and her inspiration was earthbound. She and John wove together songs of the here and now: love, loss, betrayal, and—with into the sun—hope.
We lost her too soon.