The latest inductee into the Irish Country Music Hall of Fame, Margo O’Donnell, is more than grateful for the life she has enjoyed on the circuit.
After almost 60 years on stage, she is still charming audiences and enjoying every minute spent in the company of friends.
“It was lovely to receive the Hall of Fame honour and following in the footsteps of Big Tom, Daniel (O’Donnell) and Philomena (Begley),” Margo tells Country Sound.
“It is nice to know that people appreciate you and I have been more than fortunate with the kind of people who have followed me down through the years,” she adds.
Born and raised in Kincasslagh, on the west coast of Donegal, she joined the local Keynotes Showband as a teenager. In 1970, she hit No 1 in the Irish Top 20 with her recording of I’ll Forgive and I’ll Try to Forget. Her albums have sold in their thousands and she has been known as the Queen of Country and Irish for decades now.
“We grew up in a wonderful era when neighbours helped each other and there was a great sense of community,” she recalls. “There was also a lot of emigration, especially to England, in the 1960s. The Irish dance halls in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Leeds and Coventry were a mecca for those people to gather and the Irish bands provided an incredible link with home for those people. They were amazing times.”
Margo has resided in Castleblayney, Co Monaghan, for more than 20 years, sharing the same parish with the undisputed King of Irish Country, Big Tom McBride.
“I was driving through ’Blayney the other day and there was a nice gathering of people at the Big Tom monument taking photos. This is a daily occurrence. Many of them then make their way out to Oram to visit his grave. Singers come and go but the depth of feeling there was and still is for Big Tom will never ever be seen in this country again. He had a unique place in the hearts of countless thousands of people,” she says.
“I had been saying to Heather Humphreys [Cavan-Monaghan TD and Minister for Rural and Community Development] for some time that we needed to get a stamp to honour Big Tom and she was hugely enthusiastic about the Keep It Country series of stamps issued by An Post in recent weeks,” she says with a smile.
“It was well overdue, in Big Tom’s case especially. Tom made the emigrants happy. He meant everything to them and they turned out in their thousands year after year to welcome him and his band to the dance halls in England. I am just sad that these honours did not happen while he was still with us.
“Tom was my favourite singer of all time. I think in the latter later years Tom began to realise how much people did appreciate him,” she adds.
“He truly was a national treasure and we all appreciated the wonderful tributes paid to him by President Michael D Higgins who has such a wonderful understanding of the people from our generation.”
The Girl from Donegal, as she has been affectionately known to so many over the decades, has decided to cut back drastically on her tours.
“From now on, I will do a few selected dates to keep in touch with my loyal followers. I will also do guest spots on some local shows and festivals in Donegal including one that supports free cancer flights for people from Donegal to Dublin. There may also be the odd guest spot at some shows but that will be it,” she says.
After all the years, Margo can still fill concert venues like few others. The night usually ends with a standing ovation. And one suspects that in her heart, there really is no place else on earth, just like the hills of Donegal.
The last decade has seen the revival of the big summer country music outdoor festivals, which attract thousands of patrons.
Some that have come to our attention for 2023 include the Benbulben Country Festival in Grange, Co Sligo, which will be staged over two days on 1-2 July. The setting is spectacular with Benbulben towering in the background.
The acts confirmed for the event are Mike Denver, Robert Mizzell, Patrick Feeney, Jimmy Buckley, Sandy Kelly, The Tumbling Paddies, Gerry Guthrie, The Conquerors, Johnny Brady and Aoife McDonagh.
Liam Claffey from Moate also tells us that the Beat on The Peat Festival will be staged in Belmont in Offaly on Sunday 9 July, with a more folk and contemporary feel.
Currently, The Tumbling Paddies, Ruaile Buaile, All Folk’d Up are confirmed to take to the stage with a number of other acts being added over the next few weeks.
The Kilkenny Country Music Festival will be staged at Gowran Park Racecourse on Sunday 9 July. Mary Holden tells us they are eagerly looking forward to a full return to normality and are delighted to announce the lineup for the 2023 Festival. On stage will be Mike Denver, Olivia Douglas, Jimmy and Claudia Buckley, Brendan Shine, Trudi Lalor and The Conquerors.
The well-established Cut Loose Country Festival, celebrating its 10th anniversary, will take place on Sunday 16 July in Holycross, Co Tipperary. The big lineup this year features Nathan Carter, Michael English, Declan Nerney, Louise Morrissey, Jimmy Buckley, Muriel O’Connor and Fran Curry, Claudia Buckley and Molly O’Connell. The Conquerors will support all the acts.
Tickets for all of the above-mentioned shows are now on sale and the organisers are looking forward to excellent support for these summer festival shows.