young at heart | 

Queen of Country Philomena Begley reveals how performing gives her zest for life at age 80

‘I’d do it all again if I got half a chance, and I hope I get half a chance because life is slipping on’

Philomena Begley

Philomena with our man Eddie Rowley

Daniel O’Donnell with Country queen, Philomena Begley

Philomena started out in singing when she was just 20

Philomena Begley

Eddie RowleySunday World

Ireland’s Queen of Country Philomena Begley says that singing and performing is the secret of her zest for life at the age of 80.

The much-loved entertainer, who is celebrating an incredible 60 years in showbusiness, is currently touring Ireland with Mike Denver and admits that performing is like a drug as it keeps her young at heart.

In Sunday World’s latest podcast, My Country Life, Philomena reveals: “To be honest, there are nights I could be standing at the side of the stage not in good form, but that goes when you hit the stage, whatever the hell it is. It’s like a drug.”

And the legendary female performer, who recently shot a hilarious video in bed with heart-throb Nathan Carter – “Sure what more would any woman want at 80!” she said - reveals that she’ll never retire.

Philomena with our man Eddie Rowley

“I have no intention of retiring. I love it,” Philomena tells me on the podcast.” I’d do it all again if I got half a chance, and I hope I get half a chance because life is slipping on.”

Looking back on her life, The Blanket on the Ground hit singer says that she fell into the world of music by chance at the age of 20.

Philomena came from a family of eight in the village of Pomeroy, Co Tyrone, where her father was a bread man, and she left school at 15 to work in a hat factory in Cookstown, earning “three pounds and 10 shillings a week.”

One night in 1962, while attending a dance in her local hall, the local Old Cross Céilí Band asked for volunteers to come up and sing with them. Philomena’s best friend, Josie, dared her to go up – and she took on the challenge.

The following day the band asked her to join them. From then on, Philomena would exist on a couple of hours sleep as she worked in the factory by day and played with the band at night around the country.

Daniel O’Donnell with Country queen, Philomena Begley

“To be honest, I don’t know how I done it,” she recalls, adding that she’d often have “a wee snooze” lying on the coats of the other factory workers during the day.

She remembers how in the early days the priests would patrol the halls to ensure that couples didn’t get too close during the slow dances. “I don’t think they agreed with dancing too close,” Philomena says.

“A pole to open the windows was used by the priest to separate everybody and he’d go up the middle of the floor.” One priest used to say, “Leave room for the Holy Ghost.”

In 1964, Philomena left the factory and went full time into the country music scene. It was tough times travelling the length and breadth of Ireland on bad roads and with no 24-hour garages to stop for refreshments.

She tells how they’d take their own sandwiches with them and steal milk “an odd time” from farmers on journeys home through the night.

“The farmers used to put their creamery cans out for the lorries to pick up,” she explains, adding that the lads in the band would tip the can over and take “a few pints.”

Philomena was the only woman in the band, although she had struck up a relationship with one of the musicians, Tom Quinn, who she went on to marry.

She admits that stopping for a toilet break on long journeys through rural Ireland was embarrassing for her at first.

“That caused a few problems alright,” she says. “The first time it happened I was in an awful state and by the time I got home I couldn’t go.”

Philomena and Tom married after being together for 12 years. What attracted her to Tom. “He was a big handsome man, and when he gets himself into the gear he’s still (handsome) for his age. A lot of women had their eye on him. It took me all my time watching him.”

The couple wed in The couple got married in the cathedral in Monaghan town on February 2, 1974. She reveals that the wedding ring cost ten pounds and there were only seven people at the ceremony.

Philomena started out in singing when she was just 20

On the afternoon of their wedding the couple joined the rest of the band to play at a dance in Portumna, Co Galway, and two night later they were performing at a festival in London’s Royal Albert Hall, where they met the late Brendan Grace and his wife, Eileen, who were on their honeymoon.

“I never got a honeymoon,” the mother-of-three says. “I’ll hardly get one now but sure it would make no difference at this stage.”

To hear Philomena Begley tell her life story in her own words listen now to My Country Life with Eddie Rowley on Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. Or simply Google My Country Life Philomena Begley.

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