Ireland’s ‘Queen of Country’ turns eighty this month. June McDonnell chats to Philomena about her wonderful music career which has spanned six decades during which her popularity as a performer and recording artist has never waned.
Life passes by as we are making plans,
Oh how the years do fly
If I could turn back time, I’d grab it with both hands,
Yes, I’d do it all again given half a chance’
– Derek Ryan
As she is about to celebrate her 80th birthday these words from Philomena’s 2020 hit single Half A Chance by Derek Ryan come to mind. It’s a song that, given the year that’s in it, she plans to re-release.
Another release from Philomena is her new album The Diamond Collection. It’s a sixty-track 3-CD set highlighting her golden anniversary as an entertainer. One of the tracks We Believe in Happy Endings – a duet with her son Aidan – is one of the first tracks to be released from the album.
2022 has been a year of highlights for Philomena. After celebrating sixty years as a performer last May, her 80th birthday is looming. The celebrations to mark these milestones started last December when Daniel O’Donnell kicked off the activities with a tribute concert on TG4. Some of the guests on the night included Mick Flavin, Sandy Kelly, Louise Morrissey, Mike Denver, Claudia Buckley and Olivia Douglas.
The year-long celebrations involved a nationwide tour that culminates with three concerts in the Great Northern Hotel, Bundoran from 14th-16th October. Some of those appearing on the three nights include Margo, Declan Nerney, Mick Flavin, John Glenn and of course her son Aidan.
I phoned her recently to have a chat, as I hadn’t spoken to her since her heart operation three years ago. Thankfully she has made a complete recovery. We joked that her surgeon must have implanted long-life batteries during the operation as her energy and enthusiasm for performance knows no bounds.
Philomena has worked all her life singing and entertaining since a fateful night in May 1962 in the Ardboe Hall. Her friends dared her to sing a song with the Old Cross Céilí Band and she went up on stage and sang Wolfe Tone’s Grave’.
“I remember it as if it was yesterday,” she said. Her performance that night lead to an invitation to join the band. She finds it hard to believe that famous night was a stepping stone to world fame.
Now known as ‘The Queen of Country’, she has travelled up and down the country and performed in every ballroom and at every carnival in every county. She told me they were great days.
“You would meet all the other bands of the time criss crossing the country after our gigs. We’d stop at some chip van or greasy spoon and have the chat and the craic was mighty, but those days are long gone.”
Ray Lynam is just one of the singers she recorded with over the years. Their success as a duo earned them the award of ‘Top Country Duo’ at Wembley in 1975.
One of their hit singles My Elusive Dreams was mentioned by Shane McGowan in his song A Pair Of Brown Eyes when he sang the line ‘When Ray and Phil sang My Elusive Dreams’. When other singers mention you in a song you know you’ve hit the big time!
Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own