By Michael McDonagh
Kathy Durkin, from Butlersbridge, in County Cavan, has been a household name in Irish country music for over 30 years.
She was born in 1955, one of the five daughters and three sons of well-known fiddler Eugene Leddy, who toured Ireland with his Ceili band in the 1940s and 1950s and still lives in Cavan where she has been married to her husband Andy for 38 years and is known for her charity work. Their son Aindreas, also a singer, performs from time to time with his mother.
Kathy didn’t start her professional music career until she was in her thirties when she went on to have huge hits with Clock in the Tower and Midnight to Moonlight
But her really big break came in 1991 with the song Working Man which spent a year in the Irish charts and was voted best Irish Single in 1991 and 1992. That enabled her to tour the world.
IW: You came from a very musical family in Cavan, tell us a little about that.
My father had his own ceili band from about the ‘40s in the same era as Jimmy Shand, it was one of the most popular bands in the country and he toured all over Ireland and Scotland and England. He had it on the road for a long time but gave it up in about 1968-1969, I think, when the show bands took over the scene.
“He encouraged me to play music and sing, and his mum was a great singer, I never got to meet her – dad said she had a very powerful strong tuneful voice and you could hear her singing across the fields. I’m the one that has taken after his mum, she died when she was in her early 70s.
IW: Did you sing with your dad’s group?
“Ah God, no – I was too young.”
IW: Then when and where was your first gig?
“Oh, I won the All-Ireland when I was just 14 but I, was singing from an early age, probably about four, singing around the house and I would never shut up.
“My dad sort of encouraged me to go to school and sing and take part in competitions but he never encouraged me to go into the band scene or anything like that, so it was really not until I was 32 that I got into my music career.
“I was, married and had my kids at that stage. My first child was very, very ill because he was born without an oesophagus. I was a full-time mum and he was in Crumlin Children’s Hospital for nearly three years. For years after I was involved in his aftercare, but he is okay now – he is the son that sometimes plays and sings with me.
“All of that meant that I came late to singing professionally.
“It was a different time then in the ‘80s for country music. Back in the ‘60s when Philomena Begley and Susan McCann started it was huge, there were so many venues they could pack out.
“It is a hundred times harder starting out now than it was then.”
IW: The Irish Country Music scene has changed a lot?
“When I look back at the scene then, and look at the scene now, I think it was more polished. My band always had smart band suits for the shows, and for TV, but now you see them going on stage in all sorts and in jeans and t-shirts.”
IW: You had a single last year called Go Light your World. What motivated you to that?
“It is about homelessness which is such a big problem. I brought it out before Christmas last year, but not early enough, so I am bringing it out again this year in September and I’ll have an album to go with it as well.
“I am in discussions at the minute about which charity to support with it, there are three or four we are looking at.
IW: You were well into sport back in the ‘70s with Cavan Ladies. Would you have preferred to do sport rather than music?
“Sport was always my first love, I played football and basketball. My two brothers played football for Cavan. I won an All-Ireland Medal with Cavan Ladies in 1977. Then I decided to play golf and I now run the most successful golf classic in Ireland, which is coming up on 19 August, The Kathy Durkin Golf Classic at the Slieve Russell Hotel in Cavan.
“I do it every year for charity and we have raised well over a million euro to date. I lost my sister last year from cancer so this year I am doing it for the hospice.”
IW: Will you be touring over here anytime soon?
I’m in the Concert Hall in Glasgow on 24 August as part of the Pride of Ireland. My voice has never been so good, having the rest from my injury did me good, and we will be over for more shows in 2020.