Irish Country Queen Philomena Begley celebrated her 59th birthday in show business this week – and says she intends to keep playing until she falls.
At 78, the legendary artist is still recording new music and has just released a duet single with his only son, singer Aidan Quinn, called Love & Happiness.
“I never would have thought in a million years of retiring – and I’m sure it’s not worth it now anyway at my age,” Philomena told Sunday World from her home in Galbally, in County Tyrone.
“If I can keep my health and stay upright, I will continue as long as I can because I love it so much.
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past year, it’s that sitting at home on a couch isn’t good for you.
“The coronavirus lockdowns have been horrific. I have never seen anything like it in my life. I have been working for almost 60 years and we have played during the troubles. It was dark days, but it was worse. It is a terrible blow to the system. “
However, Philomena worries that some musicians and singers, young and old, will never return to the country music scene.
“It’s hard to know if some of the older musicians will come back, and you might not even see some of the younger ones coming back,” she tells me.
“If some of the younger guys have a good job in the meantime, they can see the whole music industry in a different light. It’s different for us, we’ve been there and done everything, but it’s going to be tough. financially, for the younger ones to go back and start over.
“There’s a lot of expense involved in getting back on the road, but we’ll just have to cross our fingers and hope for the best. But I can’t see it going back to what it was in our day.”
Reflecting on her own life in country music, Philomena says, “When I look back on my career, I can honestly say that I loved every minute of every hour of it, and the craic was ninety!
“At that time you would pass other groups in their vans on the road, and you would stop at gas stations and chip shops and you would meet. It’s not like that anymore.
Philomena began her singing career on May 11, 1962, supporting the Old Cross Céilí Band at Ardboe Hall, Co Tyrone.
She recalls that in those early days, they weren’t allowed to perform the American country music songs of the day, so they converted them into waltzes of yesteryear. “The Catholic clergy forbade us to bring anything new into our traditional Irish settings,” she says. “At that time, you would have been excommunicated if you had broken the rules in the ceilí rooms, so we didn’t dare to disturb anyone. We knew the rules of the Church should not be broken.
“We also saw the priest walking through the crowd making sure that the couples did not get too close during the slow dances. So it is the parish carnivals, rather than the céilí halls, that have become our testing ground for these new country sounds. “
The group later became Country Flavor, and later she would face off against her own group, Philomena Begley and Her Ramblin ‘Men. Her many hits include Queen of the Silver Dollar, Truck Drivin ‘Woman, and Blanket on the Ground.
In her 30s, Philomena decided to start a family with her husband, Tom Quinn, who was also a member of her group.
However, the country’s icon was devastated to suffer a miscarriage during her first pregnancy.
“I don’t usually talk about it, but it left me overwhelmed and depressed for a while,” says Philomena. “It was scary and there was no support back then. You just got back to what you were doing. I had the band and a lot of things to keep me going and luckily I got pregnant shortly. after.”
Philomena went on to have three children, Mary, Aidan and Carol. His daughters joke that Aidan is his favorite.
So Aidan is the boy with the white hair? “Well, he is nowadays because he’s gray,” laughs Philomena.
“Girls used to tell me that, but they’re all equal to me. Aidan was the only one who cared about singing and he always came with me and got on stage to sing.”
An imposing figure, Philomena remembers that when she was pregnant with Aidan she was so tall that she “had to back up into the hospital cabin.
“It’s also good that he came out by Caesarean or I wouldn’t be here now because he weighed 11 pounds 1 ounce.”
“He was the fattest child born at that time and the doctors and nurses all came to see him. He was almost high and he had a thick mop of black hair.
“I am delighted to have a new single, Love & Happiness, recorded with him.
“We did a song called All The Road Running a long time ago and it’s been seen almost a million times, so I hope people like this one.
“I can’t wait to go out and sing them live again and hope it’s soon because I don’t have time on my side – I’ll be 80 in October of next year!”
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