Maria Josephine Doyle was born in Clontarf, Dublin, before moving with her parents, sister, and brother, Feargal, to Enniscorthy, County Wexford for her father's career as a broker. They eventually settled in Bray, County Wicklow, and she still claims a close, personal connection with the town.
She began singing early in life and comes from a family that appreciates "party pieces" and the tradition of gathering friends together with singing.
At the age of 9 or 10, she would go to a friend's house every Sunday evening to listen to the top twenty broadcast on the radio. Her first experience singing in public was at one of her parents' parties at the age of 13. She recalls that, as a teenager, her mother was able to gauge her mood according to how much singing she was doing. When she was 14, she was given a Billie Holiday album that was the first piece of music to affect her emotionally. She was then opened up to artists such as Patti Smith, Radiohead, and Low, artists that she still cites as some of her favorites. She never considered a formal career in singing until after she graduated from Trinity College, Dublin with a joint honours degree in political science and business, and she never considered becoming an actress until after she established herself as a singer.
Doyle Kennedy joined a band while still in college, performing with Hothouse Flowers during the band's early years in the mid-80s. She appeared on their 1987 single "Love Don't Work This Way". She left the band shortly after in order to join The Black Velvet Band with her future husband, Kieran Kennedy They formed originally to enter a Slogadh competition, that they eventually won, but music quickly became a motivating force in her life. The band released their first album, When Justice Came, in 1989. Recorded in Los Angeles in 1989, it reached number 4 on the Irish charts, and is ranked among the best Irish albums of the late 1980s. She then united with producers Clive Langer and Allen Winstanley to record her second Black Velvet Band album, King of Myself, in 1992.
The Lady Sings The Blues, a compilation album featuring Doyle Kennedy alongside Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday and Annie Lennox followed and proved to be a best-selling album in 1994. It also established Doyle Kennedy in new markets throughout Europe, the U.S., and Japan. Touring Europe for the first time, she got rave reviews from The Guardian and The Times. She produced a documentary, Golden Boy, based on the life and work of Irish artist Patrick Scott, for which she specifically created the production company Mermaid Films. She has appeared as a broadcaster on Irish television filling in for John Kelly on his Mystery Train show and for Tom Dunne on Pet Sounds. Doyle Kennedy also hosted an RTÉ musical series Borderline in the late 1980s.
After releasing music with The Black Velvet Band, Doyle Kennedy left the group to pursue a career in solo music. In 2001, Doyle Kennedy released music on Mermaid Records, a label she founded herself in 2000. Her debut solo album Charm was released in 2001 following the release of the two lead singles, "Stars Above" and "Babes". She coordinated Sirens which is a compilation album of female artists and was released in 2003. In the same year, she performed on the first series of Other Voices. She released the album Skullcover for a limited time in 2005. The album contained her covers of songs such as "Lovesong", "Video Killed the Radio Star" and "Still in Love with You".
Doyle Kennedy then released the alternative folk album Mütter in 2007 along with accompanying singles "Fuckability" and "Forty Days". After the release of "Fuckability", Hot Press praised the single and stated that Doyle Kennedy "is one of the finest voices this country has ever produced." She was subsequently nominated in the Best Irish Female category at the 2008 Meteor Awards. An accompany DVD album for this record was also released in the same year. Entitled The Band of Maria's, it included exclusive live material from some of Doyle Kennedy's promotional tour venues. In 2011, Doyle Kennedy and her husband Kieran released a collaboration album entitled The Storms Are on the Ocean. The album features a collection of Appalachian folk and country songs. In the same year, Doyle Kennedy released La Sirena 1992-1997, a collection of rock-oriented tracks that had been recorded prior to her solo career. Her sixth album project, the folk-infused Sing, was released in September 2012 with Warner Music Group holding distribution rights to the album within the UK. In 2014 and 2015, Doyle Kennedy released two more albums: Maria Live, an album of songs performed live at Vicar Street and Pepper Canister Church with her husband Kieran providing the instrumentation and production; and Mütter's Daughter, an album containing unreleased and re-released tracks from the album Mütter.
Doyle Kennedy is currently working with her husband to create a follow-up album to Sing. In 2015, she wrote a song entitled "Pride" as a response to the Irish Marriage Referendum of 2015. She also composed a song about the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner in response to international media coverage of the Ferguson unrest and other police-related violence in the United States. Both songs are confirmed to be appearing on the record. "Pride," the first single from her upcoming ninth studio album, is set to be released on June 10, 2017.
Irish music magazine Hot Press called her "truly one of Ireland's greatest vocalists" and one of their "best kept secrets," while BBC Music reviewer Andy Fyfe opined that Doyle Kennedy's "transcendence sets her apart from the avalanche of female singer-songwriters." Upon its release, Nicole Byrne of Shout4Music called Sing "one of the best Irish albums of the year - if not the best" and referred to Doyle Kennedy as a "Celtic angel." Her voice has been credited as one of Ireland's national treasures.
Doyle Kennedy's first experience with acting came in 1991 when she played Natalie Murphy in The Commitments. Director Alan Parker recruited her, and other established singers, for the movie after not being able to find the right kinds of actors for the roles he had in mind. An image of Doyle Kennedy in character as Natalie Murphy in the film The Commitments was featured on an Irish postage stamp as part of the Ireland 1996: Irish Cinema Centenary series issued by An Post. The image also includes her The Commitments co-stars Angeline Ball as Imelda Quirke, Bronagh Gallagher as Bernie McGloughlin, and Robert Arkins as Jimmy Rabbitte.
She continued to expand her acting platform with roles in John Boorman's 1998 film, The General, Alan Bleasdale's 1999 miniseries Oliver Twist, and the 1999 British television series Queer as Folk. In 2006, she received small-screen success in the TV series Hide & Seek.
In 2007 and 2008, she received widespread recognition for her role as Katherine of Aragon on the British historical fiction television series The Tudors. In 2010, Doyle Kennedy portrayed Sonya, a nanny to Dexter Morgan's son Harrison in the fifth season of Showtime's Dexter. She also appeared on Irish screens early in 2011 on TG4's Corp & Anam in her first Irish language acting role. Also in 2011, she joined the cast of ITV's period drama Downton Abbey, appearing as Vera Bates, estranged wife of the Earl of Grantham's valet, one of her most recognizable roles within the UK. In the same year, she also played a small role as a maid in the film Albert Nobbs, alongside American actress Glenn Close.
In 2012, Doyle Kennedy played a leading role in the ITV mini-series Titanic and also appeared beside fellow Irish actress Saoirse Ronan in Neil Jordan's horror fantasy film Byzantium, which premiered at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival. She began co-starring in the Canadian TV series Orphan Black as Siobhán Sadler in 2013. Doyle Kennedy officially decided on joining the series when Graeme Manson mentioned that Patti Smith was the inspiration for Siobhán's character.
She has won one Canadian Screen Award for her role, from two nominations and remained part of the main cast from the first season until the series' fifth and final season.
She reprised her leading role as Mairéad Mhic Iarnáin for the second series of Corp & Anam in 2014. She also appeared as Jupiter's mother Aleksa in The Wachowskis' 2015 film Jupiter Ascending. In 2016, Doyle Kennedy starred as Penny in the film Sing Street, which made its debut at South by Southwest. She appeared in the 2016 sequel to the supernatural horror film The Conjuring, entitled The Conjuring 2.
On 12 April 2016, Doyle Kennedy was announced as having been cast as Roisin Kelly in the 2017 six-part miniseries Redwater, which began airing on 18 May 2017 on BBC One.
She first met musician Kieran Kennedy at a gig she was performing, and he subsequently invited her to sing on one of his demos. This event turned into a first date for the couple, and they married soon after in 1988. The couple have four sons, including one of Doyle Kennedy's sons from a previous relationship; they are Lewis, Jesse James, Daniel, and Salvador who range in age from 8 to 30.
One of her sons has been diagnosed with Down syndrome. She states that music is what still keeps her and Kieran together after nearly 30 years of marriage. Doyle Kennedy, Kieran, and their four sons currently live together in Dublin.
Doyle Kennedy considers music to be the most integral aspect of her life, and she prefers her musical endeavors over her acting ones. She states "I do not miss acting when I am not doing it, but I would not spend a day without singing, even to myself." She still experiences nerves before she sings on stage, but she has learned ways to control them through pacing and breathing techniques. When acting, Doyle Kennedy is attracted to characters who are multi-faceted and able to display not only a loving, motherly side, but a fierce, determined side, as well.
She draws musical influence from jazz musician Billie Holiday, American country singer John Prine, and fellow Irish folk musician Dónal Lunny, a close personal friend of hers, and has been referred to as "an Irish Patti Smith". Additionally, she draws acting influences from her personal heroes Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton, with whom she starred on Downton Abbey.
Irish artist Patrick Scott, one of Doyle Kennedy's dearest personal friends, also served as one of her biggest inspirations for her life, in general. She admired his ability to allow his life to inform his art and found inspiration in his sentiment that improvement, and not degradation, can still happen in old age.2016: was nominated for a Canadian Screen Award for supporting actress in Orphan Black
2015: was nominated for an IFTA Award
2014: won a Canadian Screen Award for supporting actress in Orphan Black
2012: was nominated for two IFTA Awards
2011: was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award
2009: won an IFTA Award
2008: won an IFTA Award
2008: won a Gemini Award
2008: was nominated for a Golden Nymph
2007: was nominated for an Irish Meteor Music Award
2003: was nominated for an IFTA Award
2002: was nominated for an Irish Meteor Music Award