Singer Mary Byrne talks to John Scally about her meteoric rise to fame as she went from being a checkout operator to a star of TV and stage and the subsequent changes it caused to her life.


Mary Byrne has perhaps the greatest Cinderella story in the history of Irish show business. She was working on the checkout in a Tesco store in Dublin where she suddenly found herself propelled to stardom in Ireland and internationally on foot of her appearances on the hugely popular television series X Factor. Walt Disney could not have written a fairytale story like hers.

Born in Dublin, Mary’s life and career have been marked by her powerful vocals and her inspiring journey from humble beginnings to international recognition. She grew up in Ballyfermot where her love for music was evident from a young age. She began singing in local pubs and clubs, earning a reputation as a remarkable vocalist in her community. Despite her passion for music, Mary had to balance her singing aspirations with a job as a supermarket checkout assistant to support her family.

Then came the moment when her life changed forever. In 2010, Mary Byrne auditioned for the seventh series of The X Factor UK. Fourteen years ago, the Ballyfermot star was in front of Simon Cowell, Louis Walsh and Nicole Scherzinger at the X-Factor bootcamp auditions. During her time on the show, she made friends for life and had an amazing experience she will always be grateful for.

‘It was hard work, but it was fantastic. I never dreamt I’d do it in my life; I remember watching it when it started and thinking I could never do that. At 50 years of age, I got up from behind the till and I did it. Thinking back, it was an out of body experience. We were all misfits, there was no Whitney Houston; we were all individuals and people got behind us all. Ireland got behind me and Niall Horan.’
Mary was on the show at the same time as Wagner and eventual winner Matt Cardle and, most famously, One Direction who would become one of the biggest bands in the history of pop music.

‘The young lads were only 16 and 17. Every morning they’d get up and kiss me and say ‘’good morning mammy Mary’’. Harry Styles was the character of the whole lot. They were such good kids, and they still are. I’m so proud and so happy for them.’
Mary’s soulful voice and relatable backstory resonated with viewers, and she quickly became a fan favourite.
‘The audience swept me along. I felt pure and utter love from them. So many of them told me that I was their inspiration for going on X Factor at 50 and changing my life. They said, ‘’We love you for doing that’’.’

Although she ultimately finished in sixth place, her talent and authenticity had left an indelible mark on the competition. She won the hearts of millions with her big, warm personality and powerhouse voice. And when she finally got her life-changing break in the world of show business, Mary was determined to make the most of it.

Following her X Factor experience, Mary signed a recording contract with Sony Music and released her debut album, Mine & Yours, in 2011. The album received critical acclaim and charted in the top ten of the Irish albums chart.

Mary’s success continued with subsequent releases, including her albums With Love (2012) and Magic of the Musicals (2014). She formed a close relationship with Grammy nominated Derry artist Phil Coulter while working on her album, with the pair going on to embark on a tour together in 2012.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own