Belfast Telegraph

Philomena Begley keen to get back on stage after heart surgery - just like Jagger

Country star Philomena Begley
Country star Philomena Begley
Philomena collecting an award a few years ago

By Annamay McNally

Country music star Philomena Begley has reassured her fans she is not ready to throw in the towel just yet after undergoing major surgery.

The Co Tyrone entertainer, who is still gigging at the age of 76, also praised the standard of care she received during her recent stay at Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital, where she had an operation to repair a heart valve.

Speaking as she continues her recovery at home, the Blanket On The Ground singer said she was being well cared for by her family.

Philomena said she took inspiration from Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger, who surprised his bandmates by taking to the stage in Chicago weeks after he underwent the same procedure.

"I'm feeling great," she told the Belfast Telegraph.

"I had the operation four weeks ago next Tuesday and I have to say the staff at the Royal Victoria Hospital were unbelievable.

"I'm disappointed that I've had to cancel some of my upcoming gigs, but I'm glad that I was able to have the operation done because it is a problem that has been ongoing for a few years now.

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"I don't be sick too often. In fact, in my 57-year career I might have been out only half-a-dozen times, and three of those were having babies!"

Addressing her fans on social media, the country singer apologised for any inconvenience caused by the gig cancellations and thanked all those who had sent messages, cards, good wishes and prayers.

"The one and only Mick Jagger had the same operation as me and, guess what, he is going on a world tour soon - so whatever about the world tour I am looking forward to being back with you all very soon doing what I love to do," she posted.

"Until then thank you all again and I nearly forgot to tell you that my new album called Jive Time is being released on the 29th of this month."

Philomena's long-time friend, BBC Radio Ulster broadcaster Hugo Duncan, wrote in the Belfast Telegraph in February of his concern at learning she had been admitted to hospital with an irregular heartbeat.

"Philomena, always upbeat and cheery, is not a person you would associate with a hospital bed," he wrote at the time.

"Then, on Sunday morning, I heard from her son Aidan that she was undergoing tests and expected to be out within a couple of days. It was a pleasant surprise, then, to receive a call on Monday morning, while I was on my way to the BBC in Belfast, and hear Philomena's voice at the end of the phone.

"It was even more pleasant to learn she was in great form and looking forward to getting home.

"Obviously, she was unable to appear on my Hugo Duncan and Friends show at the Grand Opera House in Belfast on Monday night (February 18) as scheduled, so promoter David Hull and I put our heads together and decided that we would ask Susan McCann to come on board."

Two years ago Philomena celebrated her 55th year in showbusiness by releasing her autobiography - penned by Donaghmore author Emma Heatherington - which charted her personal journey from being bathed as a child in front of a fire at her home in the Tyrone village of Pomeroy to hitting the big time as an adult, performing with global country stars Billie Jo Spears and Tammy Wynette.

Dubbed Ireland's Queen of Country, Philomena began touring dance halls with the Old Cross Ceili Band and by 1978 was touring the US, recording at Dolly Parton's and Porter Wagoner's Fireside Studios in Nashville and performing on stage at the Grand Ole Opry.

She was the first Irish country singer to gain platinum status for album sales, and in 1983 won the European Gold Star Awards, country music's equivalent to the Eurovision Song Contest.

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