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Singing for joy Country music star Susan McCann overjoyed to celebrate golden jubilee marriage

Asked if she had any advice for this week's Love Island winners, Liam Reardon and Millie Court, Susan joked: "Tell them the first 50 years are the hardest."

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Country music queen Susan McCann is singing for joy as she gets set to celebrate the golden jubilee of her marriage to hubby Dennis Heaney.

The glamorous couple met as teenagers in the same band, wed in their early 20s - and went on to tour the world together when Susan hit the big time as a country music star.

Asked if she had any advice for this week's Love Island winners, Liam Reardon and Millie Court, Susan joked: "Tell them the first 50 years are the hardest."

Susan says she didn't watch the Love Island drama, but warned the reality TV winners not to take any serious steps in their relationship after knowing each other for just six weeks.

"I think you need more than six weeks to know if you have a future together. I'm sure the environment they were in on the show is not what it's like now that they are home, so that will take a bit of getting used to.

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Denis and Susan

Denis and Susan

Denis and Susan

"My advice would be to learn a bit more about one another before they venture into anything else… and take it slowly before making plans."

Susan met accordion player Dennis Heaney when she joined local group, The John Murphy Ceili Band, as a singer.

What was it about Dennis that attracted her? "I don't know. Fifty years later I'm still trying to find out," she laughs "No, joking aside, Dennis was just a very level-headed, quiet fella. We were very compatible because we were steeped in music on both sides of our family."

However, Susan, who grew up in a rural area of south Armagh, admits that she didn't notice Dennis the first night she sang with John Murphy's band.

"Years ago there were marquee and carnival dances all over Ireland," she says.

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Denis and Susan on stage together

Denis and Susan on stage together

Denis and Susan on stage together

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"Mummy and Daddy took me to the one in Forkhill, and the locals asked me to get up and sing. It was John Murphy's Ceili Band that was playing. I got up on stage and sang A Mother's Love Is A Blessing. I didn't even notice Dennis in the band that night, and he was in the band at the time.

"Two weeks later John Murphy came over and asked my father if I could join the band. I was only 16 at the time. Daddy made John promise that he would collect me and leave me home every night. He didn't want me being left home by strange men. It was several months before Dennis and I got together."

The couple got married six years later, and Susan says their relationship stood the test of time because they were on the road together. "It never would have worked if we hadn't been in the band together," she admits.

"Dennis is an accountant, that's his profession. He went and studied accountancy and I did hairdressing after the John Murphy band.

"I had my own hairdressing salon in Forkhill, and then we got married, moved into Newry and I worked as a hairdresser there. We still kept the group going. We sang in the pubs, the way most people started in those times.

"Then in 1976 I went to see Philomena [Begley] one night in the Ardmore Hotel here in Newry. That night I met Tony Loughman of Top Rank Entertainments and he asked us to join his agency, and that's how it started."

Having established herself around Northern Ireland, Susan then became a major country music star in the 32 counties when she had a massive hit in 1977 with a song called Big Tom Is Still The King.

"Big Tom Is Still The King put me on the road nationwide, and I often wonder would I still be on the road if it hadn't been for that song," Susan says.

"When it first became a hit I used to have to sing it three times every night at the dances. And I'm still asked to sing it to this day."

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The couple on their wedding day

The couple on their wedding day

The couple on their wedding day

After winning the European Gold Star Award in 1982 - country music's equivalent of the Eurovision - she began working on the continent and branched out to America, Russia and South Africa.

"I got to record loads of albums in Nashville," Susan points out. "I worked in London's Royal Albert Hall and New York's Carnegie Hall. We just had an exciting life, and that maybe added to it [their longevity as a couple] as well.

"We travelled the world, and we wouldn't have done that if we hadn't been in this business. I never could have done it without Dennis. He was the backbone of the band. I never had any worries about the band because he looked after it and still does. He's been managing me for the best part of 30-odd years."

The happy couple had two children, Brendan and Linda, now in their late 40s, which they reared with the help of family members and a live-in childminder, Philomena, who was with the family for 16 years.

Although she still does shows, Susan, who is now a doting grandmother of five, no longer tours the country. "I missed out on my own children and I'm certainly not missing out on my grandkids. I love the craic with them," she says.

Her eldest grandchild, Sinead (16), is showing signs of carrying on her grandmother's singing tradition, and has recorded and performed with Susan.

"Close your eyes and you would think that Sinead was me singing," she adds.

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