Fifty years since she sang Ireland to its first ever Eurovision Song Contest victory, the Derry native talks to June McDonnell about the many and varied paths her life has taken since that momentous night.
To say Dana has come ‘full circle’ is an understatement, and what a wide circle that is. I met her recently for a chat and was intrigued to learn about the various paths her life has taken in the last 50 years, since as a 19 year old girl she won the Eurovision Song Contest in Amsterdam in 1970, a first for Ireland.
The spin-off from winning Eurovision took Dana down many varied paths that she could never have imagined taking, from show-business to religious broadcasting, to politics, and back to music.
The Dana I’ve got to know over the years is a very warm and welcoming person, shy but outgoing in equal measure. Recently, she was excited about releasing her latest album My Time, her first in several years.
The release of this album is a real family affair. Four of the tracks were written by her nephew Jonathan, and nieces, Rosanna and Alanna. All three have a very successful group ‘The Rua’ who have broken into the U.S. Top 40. Dana and her youngest son, Robert, wrote another track for the album called Breaking Free.
Although the Browns (Dana’s family name) originally came from Derry, they moved to London in search of employment. Dana was born in London, and christened Rosemary. When she was five years old the family moved back to Derry, first to the Creggan, and later to Rossville Flats in the Bogside.
One of a family of seven, three boys and four girls, tragedy hit the family when Grace, just eight months old, died from a penicillin allergy.
Both of her parents were musical. Her father played trumpet and her mother played piano. Rosemary took piano, violin and ballet lessons, and taught herself to play guitar. An indication that Rosemary would go far in the music world occurred when she entered the Derry Feis under 11 girls solo competition representing St. Eugene’s school. One hundred and twenty children entered the competition, all singing the same piece in the Irish language. She was hugely surprised to win the coveted gold medal.
A member of the school choir, she often performed with her siblings at charity concerts. At the age of 14, she was encouraged by Fr. Edward Daly, later Bishop Daly, to take part in a talent contest in the local St. Columb’s Hall. She recalls the two songs she sang Blowing in the Wind and Angelina. Although desperately nervous, she came second.