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Ulster log: How Bridie sang through real-life heartache

By Eddie McIlwaine

Published 11/04/2015

Bridie Gallagher
Bridie Gallagher

In the summer of 1976 balladeer Bridie Gallagher had a poignant reason for recording a new version of the golden oldie, A Mother's Love's A Blessing, which had been a hit for her 20 years before. In 1976, her son Peter Livingstone (21) had been killed in a motorcycle accident and the second recording was a tribute to his memory.

The story of how Bridie recovered from the tragic loss and carried on with her career will be told in a book called Bridie Gallagher, The Girl from Donegal, due to be published in October by The Collins House of Cork.

It was written by Bridie's other son, Jim Livingstone, now 62, who was by her side as she came to terms with the pain of losing Peter.

Bridie, wife of the late Bob Livingstone, came to Belfast from her home village of Creeslough in Donegal in 1948 as a pop singer.

But one night at a concert in St Columb's Hall in Londonderry, she discovered that the pop material she had prepared had already been performed by another female artist. Jim explains: "So mother was forced to pick other songs minutes before going on stage and chose the folksy Irish ballads Glenswilly, The Whistling Gypsy, and The Hills Of Donegal."

It was a life-changing performance - the audience gave her a standing ovation. They loved Bridie the ballad singer. She had a re-think, forgot about pop, and a different sounding Gallagher was born. She became a favourite everywhere, including the Albert Hall in London, the Sydney Opera House in Australia and Carnegie Hall in New York, always billed as The Girl from Donegal.

"No matter where she travelled, mother was devoted to Donegal," says Jim, a retired civil servant. "She was in hospital with a broken hip once and was delighted to find on the wall above her bed a picture of a beach called The White Gate, which was close to where she used to live. She loved this beach dearly and spent a lot of time there. What a coincidence that a picture of The White Gate was at her bed in the Royal in Belfast - it cheered her up no end."

Bridie's other big hit was The Boys From The County Armagh. And one of her personal favourites from a career that began when she stepped on stage as a teenager in a Creeslough community centre was The Homes Of Donegal.

Helen sings until the cows come home

Rising singing star Helen Aiken, an exciting soprano,  has other talents as well. This farmer’s daughter from Coleraine can milk a cow with the best and she can  drive a tractor, too.

But her tutor Alison Feeney will tell you that Helen’s real potential is in her voice. She started singing lessons at 13 and down the years has won most of the major prizes at festivals all over the place. She’s now on her way to the very top of her profession.

Judge the young lady for yourself when she appears as the guest artist at the spring concert of the King’s Chorale conducted by Mark Spratt in Fisherwick Presbyterian Church, Belfast, on Saturday, April 25, at 7.30pm.

I guarantee Helen’s voice will take your breath away.

Why Joni and I look at life from both sides now...

A year ago to the day I was being nursed in the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast after a serious operation on my back, the success of which saved me from a life in a wheelchair.

I’m still recovering after those long weeks in Ward Five, though happily I’m getting there slowly but surely. And songwriter Joni Mitchell has helped me along the way with her ballad Both Sides Now, the lyrics and melody of which have been a comfort.  For I have indeed looked at life from both sides now — once when I was in robust good health and then in agony with a crumbling spine.

So I’m sorry now to hear that Joni (71) has been ill, too, although thankfully she is on the mend. I met her once and she told me how she wrote Both Sides Now in the wee small hours one pre-dawn in 1969, and telephoned Judy Collins to tell her this was going to be her song and crooned it down the line to Judy — who forgot all about being disturbed from her slumbers at 3am as she listened.

Both Sides Now was a huge hit for Judy although it has been recorded by many other artists including Joni herself.

It's a helter-skelter life at Barry's

The helter-skelter at Barry's Amusements in Portrush is in better shape than ever and is available for rides again.

There were fears among regular patrons that the helter-skelter was being retired after being a favourite with children for more than 50 years - a trademark of the resort on the north coast. "Yes, the outside ride had been dismantled and taken down weeks ago which gave rise to the rumour that its time at Barry's was up," says Christina Trufelli, one of the family which has made the park a huge family favourite every spring and summer. "But the helter-skelter was being given a spring clean and is going up in its old familiar spot at the front entrance as we speak."

Evans forbid it's loudmouth Chris

If Chris Evans, who has been tipped as an outsider for the vacant Top Gear job, is chosen I'll have to start wearing the earmuffs I pull on every Friday when he is on The One Show.

You see Evans, a huge success on Radio 2's breakfast show, has the loudest, most raucous voice in television. He always seems to be shouting and every word grates on my sensitivities.

Curiously he always sounds much calmer and quieter on the radio where he is a favourite with his morning audience.

Declaring war on the daisy chain

Did you ever make a daisy chain? This is one of the hobbies children of today are missing out on because they are obsessed with computers and mobiles, according to a survey.

When I was a boy I preferred comics to daisy chains which were a bore, even for girls. There was a comic called The Champion, whose main make-believe character was Rockfist Rogan, a Spitfire pilot in the Second World War. One day after a dogfight with the Huns, his plane was on fire and he had to jump out of the cockpit without his parachute. He landed on a barrage balloon and his life was saved. If The Champion had given Rockfist a daisy chain to wear, I would have cancelled my comic straight away.

Belfast Telegraph

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