MARY DARCY HAS A thumping sinus headache which she reckons is caused by more than four decades playing in the country's music halls. Years of cigarette smoke and inhaling the talcum powder that once dusted the shiny wooden floors to make them slippier have taken their toll on the singer who originally hailed from Rathvilly.
This week, on Thursday, May 14, she'll face one of the biggest gigs of her career when she sings at a special, once-off gig in Tullow's Mount Wolseley Hotel to celebrate her years in the business. The list of performers is a who's who of the cabaret and dance hall scene over the years and will feature such names as Foster & Allen, Michael English, Declan Nerney, Mick Flavin – the list goes on.
'Once these guys heard what I was doing, I didn't even have to ring them,' Mary smiles. 'They all immediately said that they'd be there. I've made such good friends in the music industry. I was lucky, too, in the breaks that I got because some people go through their whole lives not getting opportunities to do what they want.'
Mary has been performing since she was a teenager after a chance encounter with a stranger in Germaine's of Baltinglass.
She was 16 when her parents brought her to hear Eamon McRory sing in the pub where she was called up on stage herself.
The pair hit it off immediately, both musically and personally and pretty soon, Two's Company was born.
Starting in the late sixties, they were to spent 26 years together on a professional basis, travelling every main road and bohereen in the land.
As a cabaret act, they sang all the faves and attracted crowds every night of the week. It would seem that they got their act together just at the right time as the live music scene was really coming into its own.
Their first breakthough was when they won a residency to perform for six nights a week in Killarney in the summer of '69.
'We were earning £72 a week and thought that we were rolling in it,' Mary laughs.
Their gigs in the Kingdom ensured their popularity throughout the south of the country. But it was when they released a single, Eileen McManus, in the early seventies that things began to move up a notch.
Stints in America followed and the 1970s fell into the 1980s.
Another chance encounter, this time with TV producer John McColgan, in 1981, gave Mary and Eamon their most significant break yet. John – who was to go on to produce that great export of Irishness, Riverdance – was working on a TV show called Nice and Easy when he spotted Two's Company performing.
Presented by Brendan Shine, Nice and Easy was almost embarrassingly popular with Irish audiences who were so taken with Two's Company that they were awarded a slot on every show that was made.
'That's what really opened it up for us,' Mary explains. 'Two's Company were known instantly across Ireland because of that show. It was hugely popular and it led us to appear on other shows like the Late, Late Show, the Pat Kenny Show and Live At 3.' People of a certain generation will know Two's Company name from their live performances while another generation will remember them from their ruling of RTE's entertainment schedules. Yet Mary appears mortified when I ask her what it's like to be famous.
'We never thought of ourselves like that,' she says. 'We just loved the scene so much and the crowds were huge, we were playing seven nights a week, sometimes on two or three spots in one night. It used to embarrass us if people referred to us as stars because we just considered ourselves lucky to have gotten the breaks that we did.' 'Those were different days,' Mary continues. ' People would go out any night of the week and there was less pressure on them. They were definitely more relaxed and the atmosphere at the gigs was unbelievable.' Sometime during Mary's heyday, another chance meeting with a man was to change her life. She kind of knew a man called Des Wilson from the Cotton Mill Boys but met him by accident while on holidays.
A gifted musician, Des had raised money for a state-of-the-art CAT scan for Louth County Hospital but, tragically, it was this machine that was to diagnose Des's brain tumour in late 1981.
The couple married the following year and, miraculously, Des lived for eight years, despite a poor prognosis.
'We coped through our faith,' Mary remembers. 'We went to Lourdes every year that Des lived and got strength from that. He'd bounce back after each treatment and go off and play his music at the weekends. The hardest night of it all after he died was on New Year's Eve. I just couldn't stop the tears on stage. But I had a job to do and for two hours on stage every night, I had to get on with it. Nineteen years later, I was know I was very lucky to have that job to do.'
After 26 years in business together, she and Eamon called it a day as Two's Company, a split that was amicable.
'When things change, you have to move on, and Eamon was getting tired of the road, the drudgery,' Mary explains. 'We'd no problem letting it go, we still have great memories of our time.'
Mary still gigs, of course, but is also employed as a booking agent for worldwide cruises. It's a chance for her to use her well stocked phone book, catch up with the many friends she's made in the business and have a holiday, all at one time.
On Thursday, she'll meet those friends again at the gig in Mount Wolseley. She's not at all daunted by it, in fact, she can't wait for the mega concert.
'After all these years in the business, you just have to love what you do, don't you?' she concludes with a smile on her face.