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40 years at the top 'The most rewarding aspect of my singing career was the fact that I was able to include my mother'

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Daniel credits his mother Julia for setting him on the road to stardom

Daniel credits his mother Julia for setting him on the road to stardom

Daniel credits his mother Julia for setting him on the road to stardom

DANIEL’S mother, Julia, played a major role in the singer’s life as she had been a single parent to him after his father, Francie, died when he was just six years old.

Julia was a lover of music, and had seen her daughter Margo become a major star at a very young age.

As Daniel grew up, Julia gave him constant encouragement to sing and enter competitions. And later, when he decided to leave college and join Margo’s band, Julia didn’t stand in his way.

All through his successful career that followed, Daniel always made sure that his mother shared the limelight.

“Looking back, it was my mother who first encouraged me to get up on stage when I was a child,” Daniel says. “She always wanted me to sing. Whenever there was an opportunity to do so, she would say, ‘You get up now, go on’, from the time I was very small.

“She had me singing anywhere and everywhere. I suppose that helped to build my confidence to do it. Every little step I took back then was a step towards what would ultimately become my career. And she obviously did the same with my sister, Margaret.

“Mam brought me around to different places to sing in local bars and hotels from the age of eight or nine upwards. It’s not that she was preparing me for a career, she just wanted me to sing. Maybe it was all for fun, or it could have been Mam’s way of helping me to develop confidence as a child.

“She was asked in an interview one time how she felt about me giving up college to sing. Her response was that she didn’t want to stop me doing what I wanted to do, or influence me to take another path, for fear it wouldn’t work out for me. She wouldn’t have wanted to have that on her conscience.

“My mother let me fly to do what I wanted, and she loved the career Margaret and myself had in music. She loved every aspect of the music business, loved being a part of it and being at all the major events. She was made for it really.

“For me, the most rewarding aspect of my singing career was the fact that I was able to include my mother, open up doors for her and give her a platform in life. And, boy, did she enjoy that platform. I always made a point of putting the spotlight on her at my concerts and then everyone in every hall and arena got Mam’s royal wave. She was our Queen Mother.

“When she penned her own life story, Mam said: “I love that at my age I still have a connection with so many people. It keeps me going. I am blessed that I’m not hidden away and forgotten. I am still getting great enjoyment out of life through Daniel and all the rest of my lovely family.”

Julia died on Sunday, May 18, 2014. She was nearly 95 years old.

Today, Daniel says that his mother’s mind was razor sharp to the end. “It was her body that had simply worn out,” he explains.

He counts his blessings for the long number of years that he and his family had Julia in their lives.

“We were very lucky that our mother lived to be the age that she was…nearly 95. But more than that, that she had the health that she had. She was able to enjoy everything right to the end, and she was very sociable,” Daniel says.

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Julia O'Donnell with Daniel and Margo at her 90th birthday

Julia O'Donnell with Daniel and Margo at her 90th birthday

Julia O'Donnell with Daniel and Margo at her 90th birthday

“She’d go to Margaret’s [Margo] concert and I’d phone her the next day. She’d say, ‘Oh, it was the greatest night ever.’

“Then she’d come to see my concert, and the day after I might drop in to see her and I’d ask, ‘Well, did you enjoy the concert?’ And she’d say, ‘Oh, it was the greatest night ever.’

“Every night was the best night ever.

“She got to come to all the big shows through the decades. She even came out to Branson, Missouri.

“Joe Collum, who was a member of our team, took her to Walmart in Branson one day. And he came back with a very funny story.

“My mother got on one of the electric mobility scooters in Walmart, and she was scooting around the store. The next thing Joe spots her walking down an aisle.

‘What happened the scooter?’ Joe asked her.

‘Oh, it ran out of petrol,’ she said.

“My mother had her own style. Not long before she died we took her to Ernest Speer’s in Letterkenny. It’s a traditional clothes shop that sells the type of dresses and cardigans my mother loved. And that day we bought her lots of dresses and cardigans.

“I said, ‘Jeez Mam, you’ll live a long time now.’

“When we were coming out of the shop she said to me, ‘You know, me handbag is in poor shape.’

“So we went to TK Maxx and the girls came out to the car with handbags, and she picked one that she liked.

“My sister, Kathleen, mentioned the handbag to her some time later because she hadn’t been using it.

“‘Oh,’ said my mother, ‘sure that’s only for going out.’ Now she didn’t mean going out to the doctor or something like that, it would be going out to a concert. So she still had all of that in her mind.

“Even though I could see that Mam’s time on earth was getting shorter and I suspected that 2014 was going to be her final year, I still couldn’t believe how unprepared I was for the moment when she did die.

“We were all trying to console ourselves with the fact that she was a great age and that we were lucky to have her in our lives for such a long time, but it didn’t stop the pain.

“There were moments when I was very composed, and one of those times was in the hospital when she died. In that moment I decided to sing My Lovely Island Home, which Mam had written in the 1970s about her beloved Owey Island.

“By the middle of the 1970s there were only three families still living on Owey. They would spend the winters on the mainland, and return to their Owey homes for the summer.

“However, the day came when they all opted to live full-time on the mainland, where they had all of the modern conveniences. And when the last family left, Mam said it was one of the saddest days of her life. Mam cried in our home that day thinking about the island being deserted.

“Mammy’s life on the island had been really hard, but it was the life of all of that generation. When she spoke about her early life it was never with a sense of suffering, it was always with a sense of joy and longing for it because she felt the island was so beautiful.

“Thinking about Owey that day, Mam realised that nothing had ever been written about the island and its history and traditions. And in that hour she was inspired to sit down and pen a beautiful poem about the island of her birth.

“Mam also loved writing letters, and after she died we were flabbergasted at the discoveries we made in her correspondence, of the people she had written to and the responses she had received. We didn’t know or realise some of the things she did.

“There was a letter written on behalf of Princes William and Harry thanking Mam for the letter she had sent to them after their mother had died in the Paris car crash. And on the 10th anniversary of Diana’s death there was a concert celebrating her life, and Mam again wrote to her two sons and sent them pictures of their mother, which was acknowledged in a letter back to her.

“Nothing dazzled my mother, she was the same with neighbours as she was with famous people.”

“She was a great woman with her own sense of style about her. After she died, we got Mam’s hair done the way that she had always liked it, and her make-up. As we said our final goodbyes, I looked at my mother in the coffin and she was as stylish as ever in her new dress and cardigan from Speer’s.

“The Queen of our home.”

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