Singer known as 'girl with a tear in her voice'

Sat, Jan 14, 2012, 00:00

Bridie GallagherDONEGAL SINGER Bridie Gallagher died in Belfast last Monday after a short illness. She was 87.

Gallagher was born and reared in Creeslough, the ninth of 10 children. Her father was James Gallagher, from Ards and her mother was Bridget Sweeney from Creeslough, who played the melodeon.

Many of her siblings (six sisters and three brothers) enjoyed singing. But she was the only one to pursue a professional career in music which in the 1950s was a career choice few women pursued.

Gallagher attended Massinass national school. She made her singing debut with a local céilí band in Creeslough Hall. After Decca records talent scout Bill Livingstone signed her in the early 1950s, she moved to Belfast. Gallagher later married George Livingstone (no relation to Bill) who managed her career briefly. They went on to have two sons, Jim and Peter. One of the great traumas of her life was the death of her son, Peter, at the age of 21, in 1976, as a result of a motorbike accident.

Gallagher’s range was distinguished by a quality which led to her being known as “the girl with a tear in her voice”. Her first big success came in 1956 with A Mother’s Love’s A Blessing. She was an affable woman, known for her quick wit and developed a reputation for her glamorous wardrobe and stylish coiffure on stage.

Her success brought her headline concerts in the Royal Albert Hall where she held a record for the largest audience to fill the famed auditorium: some 7,500 attended prior to the venue becoming fully seated.

She enjoyed further success with performances in Carnegie Hall, New York, and Sydney Opera House. Much of her audience was drawn from the extensive Irish emigrant populations in North America, the UK and Australia. Such were the crowds who came to hear her in venues across Ireland that on at least one occasion, she abandoned the venue (in Tipperary) and performed instead on the back of a lorry, to the delight of those who failed to gain entry.

Country and Irish singers including Daniel O’Donnell and Margo readily acknowledge Gallagher’s influence on their careers.

In 2000, Creeslough hosted a tribute to her, spearheaded by Margo. Many locals regretted that such a tribute hadn’t happened sooner, but the gathering meant much to Gallagher, who valued domestic recognition far more than successes abroad.

A long time resident of Belfast, she had worked hard to build her career as a ballad singer with a repertoire that included The Boys From The County Armagh, The Girl From Donegaland Noreen Bawn. Privately, she spoke of the challenges that a music career brought with it: the rewards were never as great as many thought.

In recent years Gallagher took up painting, from which she derived much satisfaction.

She is survived by her son, Jim Livingstone, daughter-in-law Paula, grandchildren Teresa, Shona, Nuala Peter and sisters, Maggie Curran and Rose Heraghty.

Bridie Gallagher: born September 7th 1924; died January 9th 2012.