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Hugo Duncan: Great honour joining country fan Kathleen to celebrate her 100th birthday

Birthday smiles: Hugo Duncan and Boxcar Brian help Kathleen Chapman mark her ‘ton up’
Birthday smiles: Hugo Duncan and Boxcar Brian help Kathleen Chapman mark her ‘ton up’
Seamus McMahon

By Hugo Duncan

It's not every day that I get the chance to join in the 100th birthday celebrations of a lady who is an avid radio listener to country music programmes. But when Lisburn lady Kathleen Chapman marked her 'ton up' in style, I was more than happy to be part of the wonderful occasion.

And my attendance was all down to my long-time friend Boxcar Brian. He is a friend of the Chapman family and when Kathleen celebrated her 99th birthday last year, he promised that he would bring me along to her 100th birthday party.

He certainly delivered on his promise and I have to say it was a very special occasion.

Kathleen's wide family circle, her friends and neighbours were there to wish her a happy birthday and, of course, the card which she received from the Queen was accorded place of honour.

Many years have elapsed since Kathleen, who certainly does not look like someone who has been on this earth for 10 decades, first began to take an interest in country music.

Since then, she has become extremely knowledgeable on the subject and it was no surprise to me to learn that she is very well-informed.

Boxcar Brian has helped to keep Kathleen's interest stimulated and there is no better man to bring warmth and goodwill into any house.

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Kathleen's son Millen and daughter Christine are also big country music fans and enjoy listening to radio shows and watching television programmes on which it is featured.

I have always marvelled at how well many of our senior citizens look and you can take it from me that Kathleen not only looks well, but is mentally sharp.

She is highly articulate and enjoys nothing better than a good chin-wag with callers to her home, where there is always a welcome on the mat and a cup of tea.

Meanwhile, arrangements have been finalised for tomorrow night's Extraordinary BBQ Festival and Auction at the Armagh City Hotel, which is being organised by hotel director Kieran McAnallen.

Three years ago, Kieran suffered a stroke and then, last year, he underwent a quadruple bypass operation.

Now, in his capacity as chairman of the Armagh Tigers Charitable Trust, Kieran is hoping to raise funds for stroke and heart research at Craigavon Area Hospital as a thank-you for the excellent treatment he received there at the hands of Dr David McEneaney, while he also includes Mr Alistair Graham from the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast.

The proceeds from a raffle will go to the Daisy Lodge Cancer Fund for Children. Having had occasion to visit Daisy Lodge, while my daughter Suzanne was there, I have to say that I was hugely impressed by the efficiency and professionalism of the staff.

Indeed, the overall environment made me, and I am sure all who visit there, very much at ease.

Among those providing the entertainment at the Armagh City Hotel will be the Cork father and son team of Patrick and Conor O'Sullivan, Farmer Dan (alias Barry Doyle), Olivia Douglas, Boxcar Brian and Gary Gamble, while yours truly will also be performing.

Another father and son team will also be on the bill, with Dominic and Barry Kirwan and their very talented band providing the music for dancing which will follow the cabaret.

This will be my second time within a week to be in the company of the accomplished Kirwan duo, as they were guests, as was I, of the President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, in Dublin last Friday.

Twins in bid for success with launch of their CD

The popular Heggarty twins, Paul and Aidan, from Markethill, will be launching their new CD in the Church of Ireland hall, Mullabrack, tonight.

The twins, who are employed in a Markethill supermarket and are extremely popular in the local community, have recorded a number of fine songs and I feel that the CD will bring them to the attention of a wider audience.

They are currently featured on a very popular song, Be Nobody's Darling but Mine, by Kelly Smiley.

I know how popular the duo are with the customers in the supermarket in Markethill where they work so they can expect an enthusiastic response to their new album.

"We have wanted to get this album out, because we feel we have some good material on it which might have appeal. We are looking forward to this launch night and we are very fortunate to have procured the services of a number of guest artists for the occasion," explains Paul.

Among the acts appearing on the show is Kenny Archer, who is noted for his yodelling ability. Kenny is assured of a warm welcome in Mullabrack and no doubt he will be in fine yodelling voice.

On an unrelated subject, I was taking part in a show in the Allingham Arms Hotel in Bundoran on Wednesday night and I must say it was a very enjoyable event.

The weather was certainly not geared to being indoors, but there was quite a healthy crowd present and I was in good company.

Sean Wilson and Tony McIlvenna were also on the bill, as was Donegal's own Seamus McGee, and they helped to make the night go with a swing.

Guitar legend Seamus will never be forgotten

I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of Seamus McMahon on Wednesday.

The Castleblayney man was a founder member of Big Tom and The Mainliners.

His distinctive guitar playing, allied to the organ sound created by John Beattie, saw The Mainliners labelled as "the band with the magic beat for dancing feet".

One thing that struck me about Seamus, whose funeral will take place at St Mary's Church in Castleblayney tomorrow (11am), was the fact he always had an engaging smile.

He was always the same easy-going, modest person, who loved his music and derived great satisfaction from giving pleasure to thousands in this country and in England, where The Mainliners had a massive following.

Seamus had been suffering from ill-health recently and his death, at Louth County Hospital in Dundalk, was not unexpected. However at the same time, there is great sorrow within the country music community that another pillar of the band scene has been taken from us.

Henry McMahon, the leader of Big Tom and The Mainliners from day one, is Seamus' brother.

Seamus played lead guitar on many of the songs composed by Henry, who is one of the leading songwriters in the country.

It was always a pleasure to meet up with the boys and have a chat because they were very down-to-earth people who were never slow to thank God for the success they enjoyed.

On another sad note, talented pianist Liz Gordon, who played with a number of bands throughout the years, including those fronted by Philomena Begley and Stephen Smyth, has also passed away.

Liz was modest and unassuming; someone who was once described to me as a "musician's musician".

And you can't get a higher compliment than that in the entertainment sphere.

She was a sister of the well-known Paddy Gordon, who was a member of the very popular Brier folk group.

Liz had made many friends in the country music world, which will be all the poorer for her passing.

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