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Wishful thinking

Daniel O’Donnell told us about his new album I Wish You Well and shares fond memories of Loretta Lynn and his heartbreak following the Creeslough tragedy.

Donegal’s internationally renowned country singer Daniel O’Donnell has returned with his new album, I Wish You Well.

We caught up with Daniel recently when he spoke about how the heart has been ‘torn’ out of the village of Creeslough following the recent tragedy and a wave of sadness came over him when he heard his friend Loretta Lynn had passed.

He would also reflect on his wife Majella’s battle with cancer and his hope that someone seeing her living on healthily can take some hope despite the fears that came with hearing that word cancer.

Having just returned from an international tour which has seen him perform live dates in Ireland, Canada and the USA, Daniel will be over this side of the water in May next year.

Recorded at Black Mountain Recording Studios in Jenkinstown in County Louth, I Wish You Well is made up mostly of original material.

Daniel told The Irish World: “A lot of the songs are written by Irish writers.

“Like Patty Cavanagh wrote the title track, I Wish You Well.

“Fergal Flaherty who’s in Tenerife wrote one Under A Spell of Loving You.

“John O’Farrell wrote a couple.

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“PJ Murrihy wrote one.

“Derek Ryan, Brendan Graham.

“If they have been recorded, they have only been recorded by the writer and some are not recorded at all so it will be nice to see what people think of it.”

What made him go with the title, I Wish You Well? “I love the song.

“Patsy Cavanagh’s the writer of it.

“Patsy of course wrote many songs, the best known being Home to Donegal which is an anthem.

“So when I heard it, I just loved it. I loved the song.

“And I just thought it was a lovely title of an album, I Wish You Well and I’ve done it on the show on the tour we just did in Ireland and Canada and America and it’s lovely to do, I Wish You Well.”

It sounds like a great title after the last couple of years. When things were looking pretty bleak, all you could do was wish well for yourself and others.

How has the pandemic been for Daniel? “I suppose the fact that we were at home for the first lockdown and we live in the country so we didn’t feel that restricted.

“We were able to go out and walk.

“It was restrictive in the fact you couldn’t go where you wanted if you wanted to go somewhere.”

However, Daniel got around this.

He made headlines during that first lockdown for singing at nursing homes, bringing some joy to those who were cooped up and unable to even see their families.

“I suppose I was cheeky. I got onto the guards and I got a dispensation that I could go and sing at the nursing homes.

“So I was able to go to Letterkenny and everything.

“I was able to drive an hour which was amazing as you were only able to go two kilometres.

“I just seen it as a long break really, you know?

“I genuinely did feel for the younger artists that were starting at that time and had invested probably time and maybe a lot of money in whatever they were going to do.

“And then the whole thing stopped for them.

“And it’s hard to start, it’s hard for you when you’re in that situation.

“I felt for them more than myself because I suppose the people that knew me before lockdown will still know me after.

“So it’s not a case of trying to get my name out there.

“Obviously my situation is trying to encourage people of a certain age to come to a show again because we must remember that they were told by governments and medical people, ‘Don’t go out, you’re vulnerable’.

“And now they’re telling them, ‘Go out now, you’re fine’.

“It’s hard to change that mindset, you know?”

Is it good to be back doing shows and touring? “God, it is.

“We were away in Canada and America. We travel in a bus and we sleep on the bus a lot of the nights.

“You just get onto the bus, go to the show, do the show and to bed, away another ten hours or eight hours.

“Get up in the morning, into the theatre, get organised, do the show.

“It sounds awful but we really enjoyed it.

“We have a lot of fun and it’s just amazing.

“If I was living in America, I would buy one of them big buses, I don’t think I would ever leave it,” he laughs.

Daniel mentions a song on his album is written by Derek Ryan, a country singer- songwriter whose material he has recorded before.

Daniel believes in giving a helping hand to those on the way up with Nathan Carter being another one he has been there for.

“If there’s anything I can do.

“I remember ringing Nathan, I don’t know how many years ago now.

“I remember calling him and saying to him, ‘You should really come to Ireland, Nathan because there’s more opportunity here for the type of music you’re doing’.

“He came and he’s been amazing.

“Derek is a super songwriter.

“I had Derek on a TV show we did in the states.

“I suppose what I do if I see some of them on something, if I see them doing a programme, I try to get in touch with them to tell them it was good.

“And then I present the Opry le Daniel on TG4 and that’s great too.

“They always give a night to the young talent.

“So every year we will have three or four of them on.

“I enjoy the opportunity because they’re all great and I love hearing them.

“There’s so many of them and they’re all worthy of a chance.”

Daniel has had a long career now and broken records but when he was starting out, he was told there was no place for what he was doing.

“My belief is if I had listened to people when I was starting, I would not be talking to you today because nobody gave encouragement.

“I just always think that you should try, you should always try and not be disheartened. Keep going if you believe in it, enjoy it.

“It’s so much easier to live life doing something you enjoy.

“I was starting out, I suppose live music was going through that transition from dance halls.

“It kind of was dying, I suppose.

“I just couldn’t accept that nobody wanted to hear the music that was popular the year before, two years before.

“And I just believed, I loved what I was doing.

“I didn’t sing Destination Donegal because I thought it would be good for the audience.

“I sang it because I loved it, and I think that’s the secret.

“You need to be doing what you love.

“If somebody came to me with a song tomorrow and they said, ‘Oh, that’s going to be a number one record’- If I didn’t love it, I would not want to do it and that’s, I think, the bottom line.”

Daniel’s home county of Donegal has been rocked recently by the tragic explosion at a petrol station in the village of Creeslough, taking ten lives with children among them.

“The heart is torn out of Creeslough, and the whole county and I suppose the whole country is behind them and lifting them up.

“But it’s so close to home.

“In August, I walked into that service station, got my diesel, paid for it, bought whatever I bought and walked out.

“And people did that a week ago on Friday, just like I did, and their fate was so different to mine.

“And the whole area- Creeslough’s a really small village really- and to think that that has just happened in that area is just beyond belief.

“I watched all the funerals and it’s just heartbreaking really.

“I said one day there, ‘I wonder when will there be a happy day in Creeslough again?’ Because everything is tinged with that.

“There’s nobody in Creeslough that didn’t know the people and I suppose very few of them that were not related in some way or another.

“When you have ten people from their community, there has to be cousins and brothers or sisters and they’re all living around.

“The only girl who wasn’t from Creeslough, she was over with a friend.

“It’s a tragedy.

“And yet as I watched the funerals, that wee girl Leona’s parents requested of the priest read out the Footprints prayer and I thought to myself, ‘In this terrible depth of sadness that they have, they are reading out a prayer that is really positive’.

“It’s about two people walking on the beach, one being Jesus and the other being you.

“If you look back at your life, you see that at the worst times you were on your own but in actual fact, when it was explained, it was Jesus carrying you.

“He says, ‘That’s when I carried you’.

“I thought to myself, ‘God, it’s unbelievable how they even have the presence of mind to think. How does that happen when you could see it on them, their hearts were broken?

“Their bodies were crumbling, not alone was their mental state but their bodies were hunched.

“And yet, they got the priest to read that prayer that there’s hope in.

“I thought, ‘God, that’s amazing’.

“Community is a great thing too. It’s a solid thing.

“They came together in force.

“I suppose God gives strength or people get strength from somewhere.”

Daniel has had more sadness lately with the passing of Loretta Lynn.

The renowned American country singer Loretta Lynn died on 4 October at her home in Tennessee at the age of 90.

Lynn was of Cherokee and Scots-Irish descent.

A hero to Daniel, he would get to know her as a friend.

“I loved her.

“I loved her and I suppose I was blessed to be able to get to know both herself and Charley Pride.

“Charley died, it would be two years now and I got to do so much with Charley.

“The last  time I visited her was 2018.

“I was in Branson and I drove down to see her because she had the stroke a few years before and I hadn’t seen her so I just wanted to see her.

“And she was in good form. She was obviously affected by the stroke but still very bright and any time I called her, she was very bright.

“I spoke to her in February and she was great.

“And then I couldn’t get her on her birthday but I got her daughter.

“I just knew then.

“I felt she must have deteriorated because I hadn’t spoken to her since February.

“But on the day she died, we were doing shows in Indiana and I saw a message on my phone and it was Crystal Gayle’s husband.

“He said, ‘Could you give us a call back?’

“And I just knew that Loretta was gone.

“I walked into the theatre and Damien in the band, I heard him saying in the distance that ‘it’s on the internet that Loretta Lynn is dead’.

“And I just felt such a wave of sadness come over me.

“She had a great life.

“She lived to be 90 and up until she was 85, her 85th birthday was a few concerts at the Ryman Auditorium.

“And I saw her, probably when she was 83. That was the last concert I think I saw her do and she was tremendous, absolutely tremendous.

“Her family will miss her greatly.

“I’ll certainly miss my conversations with her.

“She loved her Irish roots.

“She said her Irish grandmother came from- She felt it was Tyrone. She married the Cherokee grandfather so she has fond memories of that Grandmother.

“She was real Irish.

“And when I first got to know her she would always ask me to sing, I’ll take you home again, Kathleen.

“She remembered her grandmother singing it.

“I’m blessed that I got to know her.”

Someone else who Daniel got to know and who sadly passed this year was Olivia Newton- John.

“She was a lovely person.

“And when Majella was diagnosed with breast cancer, one of the first emails she got was from Olivia.

“But she was lovely, a lovely person inside and out.

“And then in Donegal of course yesterday we found out about the death of Noel Duggan of Clannad so I called Moya yesterday.

“It’s just a shock for them, he died so suddenly and not old, he was only 73.”

Daniel mentions his wife Majella’s cancer there.

She was diagnosed in 2013 and later got the all clear.

“She’s well, thank God.

“And please God we’ll count the years for many years to come. That’s all we can hope for.”

Majella famously shaved her head on The Late Late Show. While another person’s cancer might be very private, Daniel and his wife went through it rather publicly.

What was that like? “I was with Majella when she was diagnosed, with the doctor when she was told.

“And the first thing you think of is that you’re going to die.

“But I think it’s important the like of Majella and the fact that a lot of people would know us it’s great for people who are diagnosed today and tomorrow and the next day- because unfortunately, that’s the way it is- see her living on healthily for all these years and that could be them too.

“The first thing you think of is you’re going to die and then the doctor starts telling you all the positive things, it’s early and it’s this and it’s that and you start to believe that this is doable, you know?

“It’s a tough road and God help anybody that has to go the cancer route but there are more people survive now than don’t.

“And that’s what you must go into it with.

“And even though you would choose not to travel the road, it’s a road you have to take and at the end of it please God you’ll have a good life.”

Daniel has been honoured with an honorary MBE presented to him by then Prince Charles, now King of England, in the embassy in Dublin.

“I do joke and say he came over specially to give it to me.

“I met the King in 2002.

“It was Charles that presented it.

“I never met Queen Elizabeth but I would have loved to have met her.

“I always admired her, thought she was a great lady.

“I think the whole world was shocked because I saw her 100 and over it but she went down tremendously quick without anybody noticing until we saw her with Liz Truss and next thing she was gone.

“But nice for her because she stood there and did her job to the end the way she’d want to.”

Daniel is one of the most successful recording artists of all time.   In 2021 he broke his own world record by becoming the first recording artist to chart at least one new album every year in the Artist Albums Chart for 34 consecutive years.  During his 35-year career Daniel has amassed 19 Top 10 albums with 17 of them this century – a feat not matched by any other recording artist.

What is he most proud of? “I just feel lucky that I’ve got to do it and that I’ve enjoyed it.

“We were in Canada, and we were in Edmonton I think one of the nights and I was standing at the side of the stage and I was watching the people coming in.

“And I went back to Trina who works with us and I said, ‘God, Trina, it’s amazing that we’re so far from home and all them people coming in here to sit and listen to us. Isn’t it unbelievable that they know about me and us and what we do?

“I never take it for granted.

“If I had known 40 years ago when I was starting out that this would be the way the book would turn out, I couldn’t ever have believed it, you know?”

Daniel O’Donnell’s album I Wish You Well is out on 4 November.

Daniel tours the UK in May 2023.

For more information, click here.

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