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Here today Queen of Country Philomena Begley says she 'would never in a million years think about retiring'

'If I can keep the health and keep on my feet I'll go on for as long as I'm allowed to because I love it so much'

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Philomena Begley

Philomena Begley

Philomena Begley

Ireland's Queen of Country Philomena Begley this week celebrated 59 years in showbusiness - and says she intends to keep on performing until she drops.

At the age of 78, the legendary entertainer is still recording new music and has just released a duet single with her only son, singer Aidan Quinn, called Love & Happiness.

"I would never in a million years think about retiring - and sure it's not worth my while now anyway at my age," Philomena tells the Sunday World from her home in Galbally, Co Tyrone.

"If I can keep the health and keep on my feet I'll go on for as long as I'm allowed to because I love it so much.

"If there's one thing I've learned over the last year or so it's that sitting at home on a couch is not good for you.

"The coronavirus lockdowns have been awful. I never witnessed anything like it in my life. I've been working for nearly 60 years and we performed during the Troubles. Those were dark days, but this was worse. It's an awful blow to the system."

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Earlier in her career

Earlier in her career

Earlier in her career

However, Philomena fears that some musicians and singers, young and old, may never return to the country music scene.

"It's hard to know if some of the older musicians will come back, and you mightn't even see some of the younger ones returning," she tells me.

"If some of the younger ones have got a good job in the meantime, they may see the whole music business in a different light. It's different for us, we've been there and done it all, but it's going to be difficult financially for the young ones to go back and start again.

"There's a lot of expense attached to going back on the road, but we'll just have to keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best. But I can't see it coming back to what it was like 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!

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"In those days you'd be passing other bands in their vans on the road, and you'd pull in to filling stations and chip shops and meet up. It's not like that any more."

Philomena started her singing career on May 11, 1962, supporting the Old Cross Céilí Band in Ardboe Hall, Co Tyrone.

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Philomena Begley in the 1980s

Philomena Begley in the 1980s

Philomena Begley in the 1980s

She recalls that in those early days they weren't allowed to perform the American country music songs of the time, so they converted them into old-time waltzes. "The Catholic clergy prohibited us from bringing anything new into our traditional Irish sets," she says. "In those days, you would have been excommunicated if you broke the rules in the céilí halls, so we didn't dare upset anyone. We knew the Church's rules were not to be broken.

"You'd also see the priest walking up through the crowd making sure that couples didn't get too close during the slow dances. So, it was the parish carnivals, rather then the céilí halls, that became our testing ground for these new country sounds."

The band later became Country Flavour, and further down the road she would front 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.

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With fan Nathan Carter at a Late Late Show special.

With fan Nathan Carter at a Late Late Show special.

With fan Nathan Carter at a Late Late Show special.

In her 30s, Philomena decided to start a family with her husband, Tom Quinn, who was also a member of her band.

However, the country icon was devastated to suffer a miscarriage on her first pregnancy.

"I don't generally talk about it, but it left me down and depressed for a while," Philomena says. "It was scary and there was no support back then. You just got on with what you were doing. I had the band and plenty to keep me going and luckily I got pregnant again soon after."

Philomena went on to have three children, Mary, Aidan and Carol. Her daughters joke that Aidan is her favourite.

So Aidan is the white-haired boy? "Well, he is these days because he's grey," Philomena laughs.

"The girls would tell me that, but they're all equal to me. Aidan was the only one that bothered about the singing and would always come along with me and get up on stage and sing."

A towering figure, Philomena recalls that when she was pregnant with Aidan she was so big that she "had to reverse in to the cubicle at the hospital.

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Philomena with Shane MacGowan.

Philomena with Shane MacGowan.

Philomena with Shane MacGowan.

"It's just as well he came out by Caesarean or I wouldn't be here now because he was 11lbs 1oz.

"He was the biggest child born that time and the doctors and nurses were all coming up to have a look at him. He was nearly reared and he had a big mop of black hair.

"I'm delighted to have a new single, Love & Happiness, recorded with him.

"We did a song called All The Road Running way back and it has nearly a million views, so hopefully people will like this one.

"I can't wait to get out and sing them live again and I 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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