Belfast’s Ruby Murray honoured with blue plaque in home city

Belfast singing starlet Ruby Murray has been honoured with a blue plaque just yards from where she grew up.

The Softly, Softly singer was one of the best-known stars in the British Isles in the 1950s.

However she is perhaps better known by younger generations through the Cockney rhyming slang, “going for a Ruby (Ruby Murray: curry)”, which she inspired.

Ruby Murray and Bernard Burgess
Ruby Murray and her first husband Bernard Burgess (PA)

Democratic Unionist leader Arlene Foster, South Belfast MP Emma Little-Pengelly and MLA Christopher Stalford were among those who attended the unveiling on Friday morning.

Mrs Foster said it was great to see the plaque installed on a busy thoroughfare where scores of motorists and pedestrians will see it every day.

Blue plaque for Ruby Murray
A blue plaque in honour of the celebrated singer Ruby Murray (Brian Lawless/PA)

Murray’s son Tim joked that he and his sister Julie are the only two people who can say they are “going for a mum”.

The pair travelled from England to unveil an Ulster History Circle blue plaque in memory of their mother on Belfast’s Donegall Road, close to where she was born on Moltke Street.

Murray’s distinctive husky voice brought her from humble beginnings to one of the most successful stars in the history of popular music.

She was first noticed at the age of 11 when she won a talent competition in a local newspaper.

A year later Murray made her professional debut on Irish television, and sang professionally on Saturday nights in various venues outside Belfast, with her mother as her chaperone.

Ruby Murray and Norman Wisdom – London Palladium
Murray alongside her Painting the Town co-star Norman Wisdom at the London Palladium (PA Archive)

Her big break came when producer Richard Afton spotted her in a stage show in London, and signed her for the television show, Quite Contrary.

This led to a recording contract with Columbia and an extraordinary career.

On March 18 1955, Murray set a pop chart record by having five hit singles in the Top Twenty at one time.

Mr Murray told the Press Association he was in his early 20s when he realised his mother had entered the London vernacular.

Blue plaque for Ruby Murray
Tim and Julie Murray, the son and daughter of Ruby Murray (Brian Lawless/PA)

“I was sat in a flat in London watching Only Fools And Horses and of course Del Boy dropped the line in and my jaw hit the floor – that was the first time I ever heard it,” he said.

“But now it’s almost a cultural reference, so for the generation who don’t remember my mum as a singer, if I mention the phrase ‘going out for a Ruby’ is about my mum, they are just as excited as if they remembered her for her singing.

“She loved it, probably more than anything else, she had awards on the cabinet but that was one that really made her chuckle.”

The Queen and Ruby Murray
Ruby meets the Queen alongside Johnnie Ray at the Royal Command Variety Performance (PA)

He said the family was delighted by the plaque.

“Over the years, she has slipped through the cracks, not forgotten but perhaps underappreciated for the achievements she had, so it’s nice to see that coming back,” he said, adding that Evermore is his favourite of his mother’s hits.

Murray’s life was recently chronicled by local writer Michael Cameron in a play called Ruby which is currently being performed at Belfast’s Lyric Theatre.

He was also behind the nomination to install a plaque in her honour.

“While writing the play I made contact with Ruby’s first husband Bernie Burgess and their children Tim and Julie, they mentioned that Ruby had not really been celebrated in Belfast, and wouldn’t it be great if there was a plaque?

“So I dropped off an email to Ulster History Circle, and a few years later we have got the play and the plaque happening in the same week,” he said.

Chairman of the Ulster History Circle Chris Spurr described Murray as a singing star who enchanted millions with her talent, adding the group is delighted to commemorate her.

Murray died in 1996, aged 61.