On this page we hope to tell you a little about Daniel, where he comes from and what life was like for him growing up. A lot of what you read in this section will be taken from Daniels book “My Story”, so you may have read it before. It is more of a personal account rather than what he has achieved in his career. We also did a little question and answer piece which you may find amusing and hopefully, informative. We hope you enjoy reading!
Name: Daniel Francis Noel O Donnell
Date of Birth: 12th December 1961
Place of Birth: Dungloe, Co Donegal, Ireland
Mother: Julia O Donnell (nee McGonagle)
Father: Francis O Donnell
Siblings: John, Margaret (Margo), Kathleen and James
Colour of Eyes: Blueish Green
Colour of Hair: Brown
Height: 5ft 10in
Weight: On a good day 12st 8, on a bad day who knows!!!
Marital Status: Married to Majella
Children: 2 Stepchildren – Siobhan & Michael
Currently Residing: Kincasslagh, Co Donegal, Ireland
Favourite Colour: Yellow
Favourite Foods: Mince and Potatoes and some Chinese dishes
Best-loved Artists: Loretta Lynn, Charlie Pride and Sir Cliff Richard
All time favourite Song: There are so many but I love “Miss you nights” by Sir Cliff Richard
Worst Habit: Now, would I have any bad habits??!!!
Best Habit: Where do I begin!
Worst Asset: My growing love handles!
Best Asset: My teeth
Pet Hates: Smoking followed by gossip
Favourite Passtime: Playing Cards and Golf
Fondest Memory: The first time I met Loretta Lynn. Wow!
Worst Memory: The night I lost my voice in December 1991
Favourite Holiday Destination: Tenerife
Favourite Movie: Gandhi, The Sound of Music and Calamity Jane
Favourite Saying: Up ya boy ya!
Happiest Day of my Life: 4th November 2002 – The day I married Majella
My early years were spent during an era when the world seemed to revolve much slower, at least in Kincasslagh where I grew up. Ireland was a poor country at the time, things were being slowly modernized. But it is a testament to my parents’ love and dedication to their children that our childhood memories are all happy ones. The only dark cloud in our lives was the sudden death of my father Francie when I was just a wee lad of six, the youngest in the family.My father was born in Acres near Burtonport in County Donegal. My mother, Julia, came from the little Island of Owey, just off the coast, near Kincasslagh where she now lives with my sister Kathleen, her husband John and their children. They wed in 1948 and went on to bring five little O Donnell’s into the world. I was born on 12th December 1961. I have two brothers and two sisters. John is the eldest followed by Margaret (Margo) then Kathleen and James.My first home was a lovely old house across the road from where my mother now lives in Kincasslagh. I used to sleep in a wee room off the kitchen. There were pots hanging from a crook over the open fire in the sitting room. There was no water and no toilet, which is quite incredible considering it’s not that long ago. In fact, there was only one house in our area that I recall having a flush toilet when I was growing up. Our toilet was across the road – a tin hut! We moved into a new council house in 1967, a year before my father died. It was a bungalow on the site of my mothers’ current dormer home.
Although I was six years old when my father died from a heart attack at forty-nine, the only memories I seem to have are of him going away and returning home. Like many family men in our area, he was forced to emigrate in order to provide for the family, because there wasn’t enough work in Kincasslagh. He worked on farms in Scotland. It was hard, manual labour and a far cry from my own lifestyle today. When he died, my mother lost her partner in life and was left alone to shoulder the responsibility of rearing us. The love and admiration I hold for my mother knows no bounds because she ensured we never wanted for anything.
Thinking back, my first day at school in 1967 doesn’t stand out as being a traumatic experience for me. The school was a mile-and-a half from my home, so it was a long walk. We had tillies (lamps) in the early morning during the winter months to light up the rooms. We had the old inkwells on the desks and it was a frightening affair when we had to progress from writing with pencils to negotiating with ink and nibs. You weren’t allowed biros. I never disliked school. It was never a case of not wanting to go and I didn’t find learning difficult. I wouldn’t have been a genius, but I had the ability to learn. I suppose I was average as people go, intelligence-wise. School took nothing out of me really. As far as a career was concerned, I was good at maths in secondary school and consequently I thought about the bank as a career. I was interested in teaching, but singing was always a possibility.
I suspect people have the impression that my mother kept me hanging on to her apron strings when I was a kid, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. She wasn’t at all overprotective. I had great freedom, a terrific childhood the same as everyone else in our area. I was always in and out of neighbours’ houses when I was a child and I was full of news. I was like a newspaper on feet. I’d sit listening to people talking and I’d carry all the gossip of the neighbourhood. And you know, now, I have no time for gossip or for people who spread gossip.
From about the age of nine I went to work in the Cope, which is a general store in our area, and I earned a weekly wage of 2 pounds. I got to know everyone around the district through the Cope. I loved working there but if there’s one chore I hated as a child, it was cutting turf in the bog (peatland), to be used as fuel for the fire. A day in the bog was a nightmare to me as I never got to grips with the skills required. It meant a team effort, and I have to work at my own pace. I wasn’t into manual jobs. I worked in the Cope every summer till I was fourteen years old and I saved my weekly wage for my holidays at the end of August. Then I’d head off on the boat alone to Scotland, where I stayed with relatives in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Perth and Callendar.
Christmas, for me, centred around the church as I always sang in the choir, even as a child. I always feel a real closeness to people in church and Christmas Eve in the chapel was something special. Religious occasions like First Communion and Confirmation were among the highlights of our childhood years. They were special occasions, not just in the religious sense but also as events to be celebrated. When I received my First Communion, there was no family outing to a posh restaurant. We went home after church and had the normal family meal. We didn’t have a car in those days, but really, we didn’t need one. There was no place to go!
I used to spend my summers with my granny on the little island of Owey which is now uninhabited. I’d wake up in the morning on the island and I’d hear the sound of fishermen going away to haul lobster pots or nets. The island was lovely. The views were just fantastic. You could sit for hours just marveling at the world around you. There were a few houses you’d go to at night to pass the time and have the craic (a Gaelic term meaning fun). The acting that used to go on in those houses was something else! They would be telling ghost stories and you’d be rattling with fear on your way home. Granny eventually came to live with us in Kincasslagh until she died in 1971.
My interest in music and fashion really started to develop when I became a teenager. It’s a time when you begin taking notice of your appearance and you cast an eye at the opposite sex. There were dances at the village hall and I was allowed out to them, but all the old ones would be at them too. I had girlfriends, but we were fierce innocent, not like the kids nowadays. The Ceili (traditional dancing) was a very popular form of entertainment in our area when I was growing up. I enjoyed it. It was better than an ordinary dance, because you could go and dance with anyone in a ‘set’ without asking first. It was a great opportunity to slip in beside someone you fancied.When I finished secondary school I went on to Galway Regional College, but I couldn’t relate to it at all because there was no relationship with the teachers or the lecturers. You had to take responsibility for your own education and I wasn’t used to that. I was very unhappy at college and I longed for home. I used to hitch home every weekend or take the bus. The summer before I started college, I had a great time when I went down to Dublin to work. We used to go to dances every night and the Irish Club on Sunday afternoons. It was a marvellous time. I was eighteen-and-a half and I really was as happy as Larry. So the fact of being away from home was not really the problem in Galway. I was doing a business studies course in college and I had planned to go on to university and maybe take up teaching. But I just didn’t fit in. As I have said already, I couldn’t get used to having to take responsibility for my own education and I never settled down.Before the first Christmas in college, I met my sister Margaret in the local hotel and I told her that I was unhappy and that I wanted to leave college and become a singer. Margaret had already established a very successful singing career. She was known the length and breath of Ireland as Margo, she was a household name. Margaret started singing when I was only 1 year old. Everybody in Ireland knew who she was. Back then, she was as well known as Cliff Richard is in the U.K. She had the same level of success in Ireland then that I would have now. It was through Margaret that I developed my interest in the music of the showbands. So, when I decided to leave college, Margaret agreed that I could join her band. This was Christmas of 1980 and it was a momentous time in my life because that’s when I decided to become am entertainer.
I don’t know whether you would call it ambition, but I certainly had a hugh determination to succeed. I got very little encouragement when I started out because people thought that my music was from a bygone era and had no relevance or place in the world today. I felt they were wrong and I was right because I have succeeded in doing what I wanted to do. I first stepped on stage with Margaret’s band on 28th January 1982 with an electric guitar that I couldn’t play! One of the members of the band tried to teach me but there was no point. All I wanted to do was sing. I was allowed to sing out front sometimes and I loved the applause. It was like a drug and I was getting hooked. I learned a lot about the music business when I was in Margo’s band. There comes a time when you have to take a gamble to achieve whatever it is you want and gamble I did.I told Margaret that I was planning to leave and become a singer in my own right.I decided to make my own record in 1983 and I had nothing at the time. I had saved enough money to make a record and that was it. On 9th February 1983, I went into the studios and I recorded four tracks: ‘My Donegal Shore’, ‘Stand Beside Me’, ‘London Leaves’ and ‘Married By The Bible’. When it came to releasing a single, I went for ‘My Donegal Shore’ and ‘Stand Beside Me’. It was certainly humble beginnings because I sold every one of those records myself. In July 1983 I formed my first group, Country Fever. I remember the first night we played, I had the entire set of songs finished by one o’clock in the morning and we were booked to play till two o’clock. So I started again with the first song and sang the whole lot a second time!In June 1984, after Country Fever, I formed a band called The Grassroots. I also got myself a manager called Nan Moy, who had managed Margo. She wasn’t doing anything after finishing with Margaret and that’s when she decided to get involved with me. I played everywhere and anywhere. In the time we were together, The Grassroots didn’t achieve anything on the Irish scene, but things were happening for us in England. We were playing there a lot but we still weren’t making much money and it was a hard struggle. Eventually the time came when I had to make a very difficult decision. I would have to leave Nan and try to move up to the next level. It wasn’t a decision I enjoyed taking, but we were never going to get anywhere together.
I was turned down by numerous managers in those early days. I went to a number of people and none of them could see anything in me. I played at the 1985 Irish Festival in London and my performance caught the attention of Mick Clerkin. He contacted me and said he was interested in recording an album for his label Ritz. I felt that, to progress, Mick needed to take over the management of my career as well, so I rang him that December looking for an appointment to make my case. Mick decided that the Ritz organization would take me on andit was a huge relief as the thought of giving up my dream had crossed my mind. Mick introduced me to Sean Reilly, the manager he thought would suit me. That day certainly changed my life because Sean is a very special man and I would go to the ends of the earth with him. He is still my manager to this day. My career continued to grow and grow and it became more and more demanding. When we started doing the concert tours in England, it was six nights a week, every week. It really was too much. I was the type of person who just couldn’t say no. I did everything I was asked to and more. I could see that all my hard work was yielding results but eventually, the pressure of all the commitments began to take its toll on my health.
On New Year’s Day in 1992 I went to Sean (my manager) and I told him that I needed to take a break. “That’s fine Daniel. Leave it with me” he said. At the time, I was near to cracking up from doing too much work. It was literally too much. I kept saying ‘yes, yes, yes’, to everything. Apart from the shows, I was visiting people who were sick or disabled, calling here, there and everywhere. Now this was a pressure I brought upon myself, because I really don’t have to do all those things. I wanted to do them, and I thought I could handle it all, but at the end of the day, the human body can only take so much.
A whole series of factors and events aided my recovery over a period of more than two years, although I was able to return to the stage after a break of three months. Physically, I didn’t feel an awful lot better but I felt well enough to sing again. My official return to the stage was at The Point in Dublin. Now, I never imagined that I would ever perform there. It’s a venue that just didn’t seem to be within my reach. Like everything else, I left the decision up to Sean. If he thinks I can do something, then I’ll go along with it. He’s never been wrong before. So we decided that Daniel O Donnell was going to perform at The Point on Saturday 11th July 1992. There were many people there that night who had never seen me perform before. The Point was a good showcase for me as well as being a tremendous night.I’ve never sung to make money. When I’m performing I never think about how much I’m making on the night. I sing because I love it and the money is just a by-product of what I do. My biggest payment is being on the stage and that is a big part of the secret of my success. If it all ended tomorrow, I couldn’t say there is anything the world could have offered me that is better than what I have. Being a ‘personality’ is, I suppose, what I have become as a result of my success as a singer. I do feel that I have handled it well because I haven’t allowed it to change me as a person. I like to keep things as normal as possible in my life because that’s just the way I am. I am very lucky to be able to enjoy family life and be part of a local community when I’m not working.
While I stay in fairly good shape for the stage, I’m not a keep-fit fanatic and my choice of foods is not particularly healthy. I like fried onions with steak and chips. I don’t like vegetables or salads very much. I don’t drink tea or coffee but I used to love tea and I had a reputation for drinking lots of it. On a day when I’m working I would boil the kettle and have hot water and a bar of chocolate.
There are no words to describe the feelings that I get from an audience when I perform on stage. It is heaven on earth to me. Without the people who follow me I would not have this life. They say that when you ‘re doing a job that you love, you never work a day in your life. Well, that is certainly the case with me. I have never worked since I became an entertainer. So I have a great respect and great love for the people who follow Daniel O Donnell the entertainer.I have been lucky to receive many awards, but the one I hold dearest to my heart is the ‘Donegal Person of the Year’. That still rates as the best award I have received during my career. Why is it so special? Well, it’s because it honours me as a person from Donegal. I love Donegal more than anywhere else in the world. To think that honour was mine in 1989! Another entertainment award that means a lot to me is the Irish Entertainer of the Year’, which I’ve won three times, in 1989, 1992 and 1996. It means so much to me because it’s also an award that’s voted for by the people.I’ve always loved meeting the people after shows. Sometimes now I feel that I am meeting people too quickly and I would love to be able to say, ‘We need to slow this down’. I know we can’t slow it down because you’d be there all night. I do a long show and meeting people is not the norm for the majority of performers. So I know we have to keep it quick and that I can just go and say a quick ‘Hello’ to people and have a picture taken.
In the autumn of 1999 I was on holiday in Tenerife. I went to a local bar run by friends of mine, Tom and Marion Roche, as I always do. Their daughter Majella had been in the restaurant during one of my visits and we were briefly introduced. I thought nothing in particular of the encounter. Majella was there again another night and we got chatting. She was great company. I felt like we had known each other all our lives. It was a very laid-back evening and I regarded Majella as a woman who was great craic (fun) to be around. She was down-to-earth, funny and very much her own person with an understated self-confidence. I invited Majella to come with some friends and me as we set off to continue the fun of the night in the local bars. The thought of developing a relationship with Majella still hadn’t crossed my mind as she took up my offer. By the end of the holiday, after spending endless hours together, I realized that I had become emotionally involved with Majella. We both had different lives thousands of miles apart, but we agreed to keep in touch by phone when I left to go back to my other life on stage.We continued our long-distance romance down the line. Majella and I would talk endlessly about nothing on the phone. The communication we had and still have is wonderful. The most striking problem at that time for me was that Majella has been previously married, although she had by now been separated and was going through a divorce for four years. From a religious point of view, this was something that posed difficulties for me and I was grappling with my conscience over the whole thing. I eventually made the tough decision to step back from the romance. Naturally, given the love, affection and esteem I had for Majella, I was very keen to maintain the friendship. Again, Majella was happy to remain friends. Over the course of the year I holidayed on Tenerife and met up with Majella. There was no denying that I absolutely loved her company. Well, I finally came to my senses in April 2001 while taking another break on the island. We were together and I realized that, yes, we were a great couple and we were very happy together. Sometimes you do have to overcome a lot of obstacles in your quest for the best things in life. And only a fool would turn down the opportunity to find true happiness. Without realizing it, Majella and I had drifted back into being a couple again. I realized that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her because I loved her.At Christmas time that year I was on top of the world. I’d had a charmed life, but now I was so much happier with Majella being a part of it. When Christmas Day came round I was like a hen on a hot griddle. Unknown to Majella I was about to take our relationship to the next stage. Before we sat down for Christmas dinner I said to Majella, ‘Phone you mother’. Majella went up stairs to make the call and after a couple of minutes I followed her. They were speaking when I entered the room and I took the phone and said to her mother, ‘Marion, do you know what I’m going to do now. I’m going to put a ring on your daughter’s finger. And that’s what I did. It’s a Christmas Day neither of us will ever forget. I was extremely happy, unbelievably happy, really. In fact, I was so content and so happy it was almost sickening. We were married on Monday 4th November 2002 and we had the most fantastic day of our lives.
What the future holds for me I don’t know. Right now I intend to enjoy every moment of the wonderful opportunities that are starting to come my way in America. It is a great surprise at this stage of my career to be branching out in new directions, while still enjoying a loyal following in the other places I have been performing all of my life since I embarked on this wonderful journey. A sincere thank you to everyone who makes it possible for me to live this dream and I hope our paths will cross along the way.