Folk icon Eileen Donaghy provided ballads for a generation

TRIBUTES have been flooding in from the world of showbusiness, loyal local fans and the GAA for folk singer Eileen Donaghy, who honed her talent as a Coalisland choir girl more than sixty years ago.

The Brackaville-born songbird, who was 78, died on Monday last at the Southern Area Hospice, Newry surrounded by her loving family.

Mrs Donaghy, known for her recordings of ballads such as The Oul Lammas Fair and My Lagan Love, sang five times in the world famous Carnegie Hall, New York, as well as touring Britain, Canada, the US, New Zealand and Australia.

Her fans claimed her ballads symbolised their childhoods.

Eileen secured her first recording deal after performing before the throw-in to the 1956 Ulster GAA final, in which her husband Pat Donaghy helped Tyrone win the first of an Ulster Championship double.

In the crowd was record producer Leslie Mann, who was so impressed by her talents that he signed her up.

It was a whirlwind year for Eileen as she also married Pat in 1956, at the height of his outstanding Gaelic football career.

The footballing tradition was handed on to their son Plunkett, who captained Tyrone to Ulster Championship success in 1989 and was in the first Tyrone team to reach the All-Ireland final in 1986.

During her accomplished singing career which included many radio performances, Elieen and Pat, who passed away seventeen years ago, raised a family of nine children. They went on to produce twenty-six grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Daughter of Pat and Bridget McNally, Eileen or Maisie as she was originally known, attended the Primate Dixon Primary School, where her beautiful singing voice was first discovered.

On leaving school, she started work as a darner at Derryvale Factory, and began performing at concerts around the country with Dungannon's Harmony Trio, Jim Corrigan, P.J.Cullen, John Mitchell, and Birdie Sweeney.

Her son Colm paid tribute to her and said the family grew up with their mother's love of music.

"There were four of us born in Coalisland and when we all moved to Moy I remember that mummy was on a six-week tour to Australia and New Zealand," he said.

"She was extremely well-known. We used to have people like Frank Carson in our home all the time. They were very famous in those days but it was all very normal to us."

Mrs Donaghy retired from singing after a career spanning 40 years when her husband died in 1991.

"From then on she sang just in the choir but she continued to be the epitome of life. She had a zest for life and if she could have had another 20 years, she would have taken them," her son Colm said.

Her funeral took place on Wednesday in St John's Church, Moy.

Fr Darragh and Fr John Hughes were the concelebrants, and the Ulster Orchestra accompanied by a harp soloist provided the instrumental music.

Eileen was described as ‘a popular, gracious lady, who greeted everyone she saw with a smile.’

Not only was she a talented singer, she was an iconic figure for many people.

Eileen was laid to rest beside her husband Pat in Moy cemetery.

Mrs Donaghy is survived by her daughters Maura, Patricia and Catherine and her sons Patrick, Liam, Colm, Plunkett, Sean and Paul.