Palmer was born in England of Irish parents and came to live in Ireland around 1910. In 1901 he was the youngest Bachelor of Music in Oxford college history and studied with C. V.Stanford in London (1904-7). He made a name for himself by writing popular pieces in a folk idiom for song or choral settings. He also wrote several stage works of which the most successful was the opera Sruth na Maoile (1923). There are some orchestral pieces and the choral cantata Duain Chroí Iosa (Hymn to the Sacred Heart), published in 1953. He surprised the musical public in the early 1980s when it was found that he was the first composer to set Joyce poems (from 1907) – he set 32 of the 36 poems of the Chamber Music collection. They differ very much from his other work, making him the most advanced song composer in early twentieth-century Ireland.