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Tuesday 17 October 2017

Heartache and hardship of most famous Irish mammy

Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

SHE was the personification of the quintessential Irish mammy, not just for her cosy appearance, her legendary knitting skills or even her fearsome penchant for straight-talking – but because of her unshakeable status as her son's Number One fan.

There can scarcely be a person in Ireland who was not aware of the name Julia O'Donnell and the warm welcome she gave to the legions of Daniel O'Donnell fans who would turn up on her doorstep.

She was a central attraction at the renowned 'Open Day' annual tea party thrown by her son – until 6,000 fans, including TV crews from Ireland, the UK and the US turned up, and the event had to end.

Her autobiography, 'A Mother's Story', highlighted her remarkable courage, humour and "deal with it" attitude towards the hardships life had dealt her. It was this spirit that cemented her status as 'Ireland's most famous mammy'.

Ever loyal, she addressed her son's squeaky clean image, writing: "A non-drinker and non-smoker, his clean-cut image in his dress and in his living standards does not meet with approval from some of the gurus in the media who seem to wish he were otherwise. But they meet with the approval of us here in Cumann Tir Chonaill."

Left a widow at the age of 49 after her husband died suddenly when Daniel – the youngest of five children – was just six, it was then she turned to knitting sweaters that relatives would sell in America.

Born in 1919 on rocky Owey Island, off the coast of Donegal, she was the daughter of James McGonagle, a poor fisherman and a great singer.

It had been a constant struggle to survive, Julia recalled in her autobiography. Through hard work and tenacity, Julia managed to raise her children on her own. And in later years, she marvelled at the twist of fate that saw a fisherman's daughter mingling with royalty, musical or otherwise.

When Daniel was about to honoured with an MBE, the family were fearful that Julia's legendary sharp tongue would lead her to make a social gaffe when meeting Prince Charles, because of her fondness for Princess Diana.

But when introduced, Julia smiled and kindly asked: "How is your granny?" referring to the queen mother who had been unable to attend the ceremony.

Irish Independent

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