Saturday 17 March 2018

We tried so hard – but God just didn't want us to have a baby

Daniel and Majella: Candidly admits they didn't use protection.
Daniel and Majella: Candidly admits they didn't use protection.
Majella and Daniel with her children Siobhan and Michael

Graham Clifford

Daniel O'Donnell's wife tells how the couple accepted they would never have children of their own.

'Am I talking too much?" asks the lady in beige opposite me. Words flow from her lips as eloquently as they do from those of Donegal's favourite son, Daniel O'Donnell – her best friend, her soul partner, her husband.

Over lunch at Pichet restaurant in Dublin, Majella O'Donnell talks about the couple's wish that they had had a child of their own, the break-up of her first marriage and her subsequent depression. She discusses how she dealt with her illness and tells me that the darkest of days are behind her.

On a brighter note, the mother of two opens a window into the family's home life and explains how Daniel, the stepfather, is as much a friend to her son and daughter as an advisory figure.

We're sitting by the window, looking out on to Dublin's Trinity Street as my taste buds stand to applaud the roast chicken, white bean, Morteau sausage and salt-baked artichokes which they've just met. We're given a complimentary glass of champagne, although neither of us is in the drinking mood.

Outside, I spot a father and son crossing the road.

"Would you and Daniel have liked to have children of your own?" I ask.

"Yes, but it just didn't happen," she replies matter of factly. "We were both examined but there was no reason (why we couldn't conceive), we were both fine.

"We reckoned it wasn't meant to be because (for) 10 years (we used) no protection at all.

"At the beginning, I wanted a child more for him because I thought he should experience fatherhood; but he doesn't feel he's missed anything.

"I'm glad the way it worked out really, I'm nearly 53. Can you imagine a 10-year-old running around the place? I just wouldn't have the energy. Thanks be to God – He was looking after us in His own way!"

She is refreshingly honest, naturally witty and not afraid to speak her mind. As she savours her foie gras parfait, she welcomes questions where others might bat them away.

Looking back, Majella, who describes herself as "a bit of a hippie", admits that when she first set eyes on Ireland's most famous crooner back in 1999, she wasn't exactly swept off her feet. She'd never invested in a Daniel O'Donnell CD and admits his brand of music "wouldn't have been my cup of tea at all".

She continues: "When I met him, I suppose I would have had a perception of him as being boring and no craic, that he'd have nothing to say and that he'd be a bit of a mammy's boy. But I discovered immediately how easy he was to talk to."

The couple met when Daniel visited Majella's parents at their bar/cafe in Tenerife. He was pushing 38, she a radiant 40.

"I was working in the bar that night. It was very quiet and my mother told me to sing a song. So I said, 'Daniel, you're always singing for everybody else, so now I'm going to sing for you.'" She opted for a rendition of 'She Moved Through The Fair'.

"When I finished my shift, I went over and sat down with Daniel. We hit it off. The following night, we went down to a nightclub and danced away until two or three in the morning."

Their relationship stuttered as much as a scratched CD, though.

After a week spent together in Tenerife, Majella went to see him in concert in London and afterwards in a hotel room she told Daniel that she was going to marry him.

"He must have thought I was a bunny-boiler. It felt like a premonition, I said it in a joke kind of way as in, 'I'm going to marry you, imagine that, regardless of our different situations I'm going to marry you some day, isn't that ridiculous?' It did scare him, I'm sure, but I just knew it was meant to be."

As the couple grew closer, Daniel decided to end the relationship unexpectedly.

"He said, 'Look, it's not going to work' and I knew myself that it was to do with me being divorced and having kids and the kind of image he had. Eventually, though, he came around to thinking we could overcome whatever obstacles were put in front of us."

Majella knew some of Daniel's loyal fan base might have problems with their boy's choice of partner. "You'd always get one or two people who'd ask, 'Why would you marry someone who is divorced when you could have a lovely fresh Irish girl?' but generally speaking people were delighted that Daniel had met somebody."

The couple were wed in 2002 after Majella's first marriage ended and she tells me that her children, Siobhán and Michael, were delighted.

"I had been on my own for a long time before I met Daniel. The children often asked, 'Why don't you get a boyfriend, mom?' They liked Daniel from the very start."

And how has Ireland's top country and Irish singer dealt with his new role?

"I don't think he wanted to be a father but he wanted to be the best friend he could be to the kids because he knew they still had their father. Also, they were in boarding school and the fact that he travelled so much meant he was never going to have to come home to a wife and two children every day."

Siobhán, now 25, and Michael (22) both live in London but Daniel played the embarrassing dad role to a tee at times when the pair were in their teens.

"When Siobhán first brought a boy home, Daniel asked, 'You know when you bring James around, do you want me to sing when he arrives at the door or will I wait a while?' She hit the roof.

"Another time, he stuck pictures of his own face over every Eminem poster she had on her bedroom wall!"

On the home front, Majella reveals that Daniel wouldn't be the world's best cook (no need for this restaurant's co-owner Nick Munier, presenter of Masterchef Ireland, to sign him up for next year's series then) though he's well able when it comes to washing up and the odd spot of hoovering.

Amid the jokes and banter, though, Majella still recalls the depression she suffered after her first marriage ended and says it took her years to get over it. She says that at some of her lowest moments she thought her children would be better off without her.

"I suppose I felt suicidal but I never thought I would go through with it. Yes, I felt that I didn't want to go on any more, that I was fed up, that life had nothing to offer me but it never got to a stage where I thought I would leave a note, it was much more a case of struggling along."

She continues to deal with her depression and says when it comes Daniel has learned to be supportive without trying to find a remedy.

"Unless you've had it (depression), it's almost impossible to understand. Daniel is really good but he still doesn't have a clue what I'm going through. When you're down there, it's frightening. I always ask is it going to lift or is it going to last forever? Daniel just lets me to it and really that's what I want – though I know he's always there for me if I need him."

With each passing year, the first couple of Irish music grow closer together and those who doubted if she was 'the one' for Daniel now rise to their feet on the rare occasion that the Tipperary girl appears on stage. Her zest for life and charming approach are as popular as Daniel's chivalrous style.

Though more into the likes of the Eagles and James Taylor, Majella admits to now loving some of her husband's tunes. "There are some songs which Daniel sings in the most beautiful and moving of ways.

"He's more than just a singer, though. I mean there's something so special in him, which you can see when he's on stage or talking with his fans.

"Daniel's father died when he was six but apparently he was a very kind, religious, nice man and it was believed in Donegal that he had healing powers. He was a seventh son and when people were ill they'd ask for him to pray over them. I don't know if Daniel inherited something from him; he definitely has a calming, positive effect on people."

Majella O'Donnell certainly isn't "talking too much" – with such a story to tell she could chat away until closing time and I feel we would have only reached the tip of the iceberg.

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