By June McDonnell

It’s not everyone that gets ‘Get Well’ wishes from President Michael D. Higgins when they are ill, but that is exactly what happened to Philomena Begley after her heart surgery, and why not? After all she is known as the Queen of Country Music.

It’s not only the President who wants to see Philomena make a complete and speedy recovery. The Post Office in County Tyrone must be on overtime delivering the hundreds of ‘Get Well’ cards, letters and Mass Cards that Philomena has received from all over the world. I spoke with her recently and I am happy to report she is making a good recovery. She can’t wait to get back on the circuit and meet her legion of fans who were so supportive during her illness.

One of the songs that people immediately associate with Philomena is ‘Blanket on the Ground’ and it is 44 years since it entered the Irish charts on 14th August. It charted at No.5 and remained in the charts for three months.

I asked her how she came across the song?

“We were driving home from a gig one night and I heard it on the American Networks,” she says. “I was lucky enough to get permission to record it and would you believe that some time later I was in Nashville appearing at The Grand Ole Opry and met the composer, Roger Bowling.

“I sang it during the Grand Ole Opry Concert and got a standing ovation and an encore. Me an unknown singer from Ireland!

“When I was representing Ireland at the International City Music Festival in Wembley I was introduced to Billie Jo Spears. Her version had charted at No.11. We hit it off really well, we had the same sense of humour. She came over here for very many visits and we became firm friends. In fact we sang ‘Blanket on the Ground’ as a duet on the Late Late Show. Sadly she had been ill for some time and when she passed I was very upset. I still miss her and I’m still in contact with her family. It is still one of the most requested songs at my concerts.”

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own