Donaghy, Eileen (1930–2008), singer, was born on 16 July 1930 in Brackaville, near Coalisland, Co. Tyrone, the second of three children (two girls and a boy) of Hugh Pat McNally, a stonemason, and his wife Brigid (née Corey). She was christened Mary Josephine, but was always known in the family as Maisie. Aged 14 she left Primate Dixon primary school to work as a darner in the Derryvale textile factory. Both her parents were from musical families, and from the late 1940s she established a local reputation singing with friends and family in church halls and social occasions, winning talent and féis competitions. She achieved sudden wider fame in 1957, when her husband Pat Donaghy was playing for Tyrone in the GAA Ulster football final against Derry in Clones, and Maisie was asked to provide the pre-match entertainment. When she sang 'The boys from the County Armagh' over the public address system, the crowd, usually more than vocal on such occasions, was moved to silence, even by a song associated with Armagh, long-standing rival of both Derry and Tyrone. A Derry city record-shop owner in the audience recognised the qualities of her voice, and introduced her to Leslie Mann, a semi-professional entertainer who had contacts in the Philips recording company.
She was taken on by the Philips label immediately, and found herself in a recording studio within days. Two extended play (EP) records – the first of at least thirty singles, EPs and LPs – quickly established her as a new talent under the stage name Eileen Donaghy. Her repertoire mainly consisted of ballads with Irish subject matter, including some traditional lyrics, with fairly minimal though up-beat arrangements and accompaniments. Her voice quality was very identifiable, with a wide range, clarity and a lilt readily attuned to dance rhythms. Her versions of popular songs such as 'The homes of Donegal' became classics. As well as finding immediate success with record sales (later on the Fontana label, a subsidiary of Philips), Donaghy was booked into venues up and down the country, in parochial carnivals, ballrooms and city theatres. Her live performances were extremely popular, thanks to her naturally warm and outgoing personality and stage presence; she was as successful in comic songs as in pathos. Unlike that of other female entertainers who came along later, Donaghy's image was rather sedate, featuring knee-length frocks rather than hot pants; her nine pregnancies did impede her career a good deal, at a time when pregnant women would not have been seen much in public performance.
As well as making hundreds or even thousands of appearances in Ireland, Eileen Donaghy became popular on 1960s tours in the UK, USA, and Australia and New Zealand, and her records had huge sales anywhere Irish emigrants could find them. She appeared often on variety shows on Radio Éireann, with Maureen Potter (qv) from 1960, and later on RTÉ television, and was one of the first artists from a catholic background to sing 'Irish' songs on BBC Northern Ireland radio and television, and later on Ulster Television. She was especially popular in a series called The Half Door Club (1961), a show with a céilí format from a mocked-up farmhouse kitchen or pub, created in one of the halls in the Balmoral showgrounds in Belfast. (Though Donaghy herself was a lifelong teetotaller and a member of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association, others involved with the programme nicknamed it 'The Half-Tore Club', because of generous BBC hospitality.) Her popularity on all sides of the community in the north was quite remarkable, and probably unprecedented; the album Ireland, my Ireland (1959) sold especially well, and she is said to have been the first Irish traditional artist to have achieved a silver disc, in 1964.
In 1965 Donaghy was one of the acts in the St Patrick's Day concert held in March in the Royal Albert Hall, London, and toured the US for six weeks, but also in April that same year headlined a concert in Newtownbutler parochial hall, Co. Fermanagh. She never lost touch with her background, lived unostentatiously in the Moy, her husband's home district, and in particular was involved lifelong with the GAA in Tyrone, and locally with her husband's club in Moy. Two of her sons played for Tyrone; her son Plunkett Donaghy and his cousin Seán McNally were members of the first Tyrone team to reach the all-Ireland senior final in 1986.
As musical tastes and popular entertainment changed in Ireland, Eileen Donaghy appeared less often in public, but both her name and her songs retained a certain amount of appeal, and publicity for her occasional shows accorded her various epithets expressing public affection: 'the queen of songs', 'Tyrone's queen of the ballad' was still noted for 'the golden hits of yesteryear' (even in 1974, when she was only in her forties!). In 1971 she recorded an album of rebel songs, Guns and songs of the IRA, at International Studios, Belfast, but to avoid controversy released it on the Outlet label under her mother's name, Brigid Corey; these songs have been featured on several subsequent compilation albums. Her public appearances ceased after the death of her husband in 1991, but some of the hundreds of songs she recorded are still familiar. 'The auld Lammas Fair' is played every year at the fair of that name in Ballycastle. Eileen Donaghy's last public appearance was in June 2008 as a special guest at the opening of the fleadh in Tyrone. She died at her home in Moy, Co. Tyrone, on 27 October 2008, survived by her six sons and three daughters, and was buried after a funeral in St John's church, Moy.