After ups and downs, Margo tells Louise McCarthy about her road to peace
Legendary country and western star Margo will not be spending this Christmas in her native Donegal. The death of her beloved mother, Julia, during the year has changed Christmas for ever. She admits that the “heart has been torn out” of Donegal following her mother’s passing.
Margo, who has sold more records in Ireland than The Beatles, is frank about her life story, spanning a happy childhood in Kincasslagh, alcoholism, charity work, a sexual assault and painful rumours claiming she is a lesbian and not sister to recording star Daniel, but his mother.
Speaking to The Irish Catholic about her memoirs, Margo, Queen of Country & Irish, The Promise and the Dream, she said that she has come out the “other side”.
Margo addresses the rumour that she is Daniel’s mother head on, saying she has “no idea” how it started, adding “someone’s mind was running riot, it was ludricrous. I don’t think Daniel and I ever spoke about the rumours, we knew what we were.”
Margo admits it pained her that the false rumours upset her mother. She is also adamant that persistent rumours that she gave children up for adoption are also false poignantly admitting that she would’ve “loved to have been a mother”.
Now 64 and with a lifetime’s experience in the entertainment business, Margo never dreamed as a little girl that she would have a life in showbusiness. However, her father’s sudden death while she was still a teenager put her on the road to stardom.
She describes an idyllic childhood amidst the rugged beauty of coastal Donegal. “I wanted to be a nurse, get married, settle down and have kids.
“I loved singing, I just did not like showbiz,” she says.
At the time of her father Francis’ death, she was playing in a local showband called The Keynotes. She took to the road with the band at the tender age of 13 in keeping with a deathbed promise she had made to her father, to look after the family in his absence.
Even at that age, she was a woman of her word and took seriously her promise to look after her mother, sister Kathleen and brothers, John and James. Her youngest brother, Daniel, was only six years old at the time.
“I took the promise too seriously. If I were to do it again, I would have saved a bit more for me,” Margo says of her foray in to the music business.
She recalls how she arrived in Dublin on a cold December in 1969, to form Margo and The Country Folk, leading to what she describes as a “rollercoaster” life.
“I would sometimes stop and think how different my life was to that of the friends I went around with at home in Donegal.
“In every magazine and newspaper that had showbusiness features, there I was as Margo,” she said. To her family and community at home, she was always as she had been christened: Margaret.
The highlights at the time included reaching the top 20 charts with the single I’ll Forgive and I’ll Try to Forget, and receiving the Girl Singer of the Year Award.
Despite her dream of settling down, she never married, but did fall in love with a Donegal man. In the book, Margo said her commitments to her family led to the relationship ending.
She admits that all of her personal relationships were affected by the fact that she always put her family first.
“I never did seem to let go of the fact that my family needed me and needed the money that I was bringing in through my singing,” she recalls looking back.
But, despite her success, Margo soon realised that the road to stardom was not all that it seemed. As success built on success, happiness seemed increasingly elusive. She describes often feeling alone and admits that she did not know who to trust in the business.
In 1971, she was involved in a horror car accident travelling in Co. Kerry. It resulted in blackouts, requiring her to take medication. She describes in her book how she felt dizzy one night after singing. As she was recovering, a man was “performing a lewd act”. It was to mark a low point.
“It left me feeling dirty, when it happened I screamed and he ran away. He is dead now, he was removed from my circle, I did not have to see much of him after that”.
She did not report the incident to Gardaí. “All I could think was that it would not have happened if I had stayed at home with ‘the Keynotes’.”
She feels that night contributed to what went wrong in her life, leading her to alcoholism, when she tasted her first vodka and orange at 23-years-old.
“Drinking was a crutch, something I could lean on. It is one of the worst decisions I made in my life. I did not drink for enjoyment, I drank for the effect. It got so much of a grip on me that it made me unsure of who I was,” she admits.
Eventually, she won the battle with alcohol. Attending addiction treatment centre, Aiseiri, made her realise that she still hung on to the promise she had made to her dying father.
“The road back was hard and long but it was worth every single step. I got my confidence back slowly and my life was to change again, this time for the better,” said Margo.
Despite having surgery to remove a lump in her breast, sustaining injuries in a car accident and being diagnosed with the blood-disorder plasma cell dyscrasia, life improved for Margo as she no longer relied on alcohol.
Having the blood disorder in 1997 ended her touring for good. She began wondering about her various recordings down the years which eventually led her, in December 2002, to be the first Irish artist to take a legal action against a record company in relation to recording rights.
She claims that her then manager, John McNally, allegedly sold all of her recordings to Belfast-based Outlet Records for $37,500. According to her book, the exchange was allegedly made from the boot of one car to another and, she claims, nothing was ever discussed with the artist herself.
Despite the negatives, there were also many highlights including recording with Dolly Parton, winning ‘Donegal Person of the Year’ and sharing the stage with the likes of Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Conway Twitty, Tammy Wynette, Glen Campbell and many more.
Margo now lives in Castleblaney, Co. Monaghan. She plans to spend Christmas there. “I could not face Donegal knowing my mother is gone,” she admits.
Despite all the hardship, Margo is content. She is dedicated to many charities, including raising funds for a day centre in Dungloe where her special needs nephew, Joey, attends.
Her song, Almost Touched a Rainbow, is inspired by her nephew.
“As I stood in my garden, I closed my eyes and I captured his face in my mind. When I opened my eyes, somehow I could see Joey,” said Margo. After 50 years in showbusiness this year, Margo is happy.
“When I sing now I am not in showbusiness. I’m not rich financially, but I’m rich in other ways and I don’t have an expensive lifestyle,” she says.