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Country star Susan McCann was once so broke she couldn’t afford Philomena Begley gig

“I couldn’t afford to go and see Philomena because we had two very young children and were paying a mortgage and it was tough going.”

Susan (right) on the Late Late Show Country special in 2017 with Philomena Begley and Margo© Andres Poveda

Susan has enjoyed a great career in country music

Susan chatting with our man Eddie Rowley

Susan and Dennis get married

Susan hit the big time after her song Big Tom Is Still The King

Susan reflecting on her success throughout her long career

Eddie RowleySunday World

She’s an Irish country music legend, but Susan McCann reveals she was so hard up before hitting the big time she couldn’t afford the ticket price to a Philomena Begley gig.

Speaking today on the Sunday Worldcountry music podcast, My Country Life, where she recounts her life story, Susan (73) tells how she came from humble origins in the townland of Carrickstrickan outside the village of Forkhill, South Armagh.

Susan grew up in a two-bed cottage that housed 11 family members and had no electricity or running water.

She remembers listening to records of her favourite American country stars, Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette and Johnny Cash on a battery operated record player.

Susan has enjoyed a great career in country music

At 16, she started singing in a local céili band, where she met her future husband, Dennis Heaney, who was the accordion player.

They both left the band when they got married five years later, with Susan becoming a hairdresser and Dennis studying accountancy.

“We got married, had two children. Dennis was studying to do his accountancy at the time and I wasn’t making a fortune doing hairdressing. We built our house and lived a modest life for the first five years of our marriage.”

Susan and Dennis get married

They supplemented their income playing music three nights a week in their band, The Fairylanders.

It was a night out to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary that ultimately changed the course of their life and would see Susan become an Irish country music superstar.

“We went for our dinner in The Ardmore Hotel in Newry to celebrate our wedding anniversary and Philomena was doing a concert in The Ardmore that night,” Susan recalls.

“Mickey Magill was a promoter at the time and running the concert. We used to play for Mickey at social dances as a three-piece.

“He came into the restaurant and he said, ‘Are you coming in?’ I said, ‘No, we’re just out for a meal.’ He said, ‘C’mon in and see Philomena!’ He went on and on and I said, ‘Mickey, I can’t afford to go in. I don’t have a ticket and I can’t afford to pay for a ticket, so does that satisfy you!’

“He said, ‘I’m not looking for money, come on in.’ I couldn’t afford to go and see Philomena because we had two very young children and were paying a mortgage and it was tough going.”

Susan and Dennis took up the offer to see Philomena Begley that night. “We were watching Philomena and she was great,” she says.

Susan chatting with our man Eddie Rowley

“She was heavily pregnant with Mary at the time, her first baby. I thought, ‘imagine being able to do that and you pregnant! The place was packed and everybody was loving it. I was a huge fan of Philomena at the time and still am. I would have always looked up to Philomena.”

The late country music promoter Tony Loughman, who was then Philomena’s manager, approached Susan that night with an offer to work with her — and this would be the start of her phenomenal career.


“Tony put a band around me, we were called Susan McCann and The Storytellers, and he gave me a song called Big Tom Is Still The King to record,” she remembers.

“He said, ‘the Big Tom followers will love this, and then they’ll get to know you,’ which was true. Within three or four months of that single being released in 1977 I was a household name all over Ireland. I was so lucky.

Susan hit the big time after her song Big Tom Is Still The King

“The showband thing was coming to an end, but the country music thing was well up there. Philomena Begley was massive when I started, and Margo was massive, and Big Tom.

“Within three or four months I was up on the same level as Philomena and Margo. I was doing all the ballrooms around England. I thought all my birthdays had come at once.

“When I recorded the song, Big Tom was thrilled and he agreed to do interviews with me and have photographs with me. He gave me a lot of advice for the road. If it hadn’t been for him I don’t know if I ever would have made it."

To hear Susan tell these stories and lots more, listen now on the Sunday World podcast My Country Life with Eddie Rowley.

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