Cathie grew up in Detroit to Irish immigrant parents from Kerry and Tipperary. Her mother, Mary Ryan (ní Rice, Co. Kerry), loved music and kept the turntable stacked with albums by the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, Johnny Cash, Mario Lanza, Jim Reeves, Hank Williams and her favorite Irish singers and musicians. Cathie maintains her mother was a musician at heart and used the music of the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem to stave off the longing for home – and to help lighten the chores around the house.
Cathie’s father was a singer and Cathie maintains he was the finest tenor she ever heard (and she did once share the stage at Radio City Music Hall with Frank Patterson, and interviewed Ronan Tynan, Finbar Wright and Anthony Kearns for PBS and heard them sing live in the studio!) Tim Ryan (Co Tipperary) was instrumental in teaching his daughter how to interpret and honor a song. He carefully explained every song he taught her, taking her through why the song was made, its historical context, and into the heart of the characters within it. He taught her that the song was there before her and would be there after her and that she shouldn’t get in the way of what it had to say!
Childhood summers spent in Ireland brought her into regular contact with her grandparents. From her father’s mother, Catherine Ryan, a beautiful singer and fiddle player, Cathie learned the joy one could feel when singing. Her maternal grandfather, Patrick Rice, was an artful and mesmerizing seanachie (storyteller). He inspired Cathie to immerse herself in the folklore and mythology of Ireland. His influence can also be heard in Cathie’s songwriting.
Her family’s musical legacy coupled with the musical influences she was exposed to while growing up as a member of The Gaelic League and Irish American Club of Detroit gave Cathie a firm grounding in traditional Irish Music. And added to the wealth of these Irish influences were those that came from growing up in a neighborhood in Detroit populated by Americans from the South and the West who moved North to work in the auto factories, just as her father had. From these neighbors she learned the music of Appalachia and heard the singing of Loretta Lynne, Dolly Parton, and Patsy Cline. In the greater community she heard Motown. All of these influences make their way into her singing style and the way she interprets music. The lilt of the sean nos mixes with a slight twang of country, while African rhythms and funk enliven her bodhrán playing on Irish jigs and reels.
Cathie moved to New York to attend college and continued to broaden her musical knowledge. From her former husband, singer songwriter Dermot Henry (Co Sligo), she gained a deeper understanding of sean nos, Irish traditional singing, and song collecting. Dermot introduced her to the legendary sean nos singer Joe Heaney who became a mentor to Cathie. She recorded her first record with Dermot when she was 18 years old. She has since recorded two of Dermot’s songs on her solo CDs and is quick to credit him for showing her everything she knows about stagecraft and performing.
After graduating summa cum laude in English Literature and Secondary Education from the City University of New York, Cathie began teaching Composition and Literature at Lehman College in the Bronx. Once her singing career took off she left the classroom behind but retained her love of teaching and sharing ideas with students. She is back in the “classroom” whenever she can be – both independent of and in conjunction with her concert appearances. Her workshops focus on Traditional Irish Singing, Irish Mythology and Folklore, and the crucial importance of the arts in education. She has been on the faculty of esteemed programs such as Boston College’s Gaelic Roots and The Swannanoa Gathering’s Celtic Week at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina.. For over 14 years she led study tours to Ireland on Irish Mythology with Dr Michael Paull of the City University of New York and renowned Jungian author Sylvia Brinton Perera. She and her band have also been in the Lincoln Center Institute’s Arts In Education repertory for three seasons.