The piled-high blonde beehive that made singer Eileen Reid famous back in the 60s when she fronted The Cadets showband, may be long gone, but the memory of that time — and her dramatic reconnection with God, because of her “sinning” ways, are as vivid as if they happened yesterday.
Aged 74 next month and a grandmother of six, she has made no secret of the fact that after marrying one of the band, Jimmy Day, at the age of 25, she had extramarital affairs from the late 1970s to the ’90s, which left her feeling “sinful” and “rotten to the core”, until she discovered Jesus Christ in a meaningful way.
That newly ignited religious zeal saved their marriage and although they will be celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary in 2018, Eileen still speaks about Jimmy’s forgiveness of her “flings”, with an awe and gratitude which like everything in her life, throughout the decades since, she places in the hands of the Lord.
“I’m blessed that we are so happy together. Christ said to Jimmy ‘I’ve forgiven her. You have to forgive her if you want your marriage to work.’ So it was his forgiveness that really sealed it. Jimmy found it hard to accept, but he said that it was over in Lourdes, when he gave himself over to Our Lady, that he felt the whole thing was lifted. I always say I’m married to a saint — he’s terrific, he’s fantastic.”
Eileen knows all about saints. As a Lay Carmelite, she studies their lives and also performs the “morning office” (prayers ritual), as well as attending daily Mass with Jimmy.
So when I ask the rhetorical question ‘religion is very important to you?’ she replies: “Jesus Christ is IT for me”.
Although our whole conversation is laced with her references to Jesus, her devotion hasn’t meant Eileen has lived in an ivory tower down through the years. She and Jimmy reared three children — Pamela, Dermot and Claudia, now in their 40s, each of them parents to two children — while Eileen still performed in cabarets and pantos, although her showband days were well over.
“We were living in Raheny when we got married. Then we went down to Kildare for the best part of 10 years. Then we went to live in Spain 10 years ago, where I used to sing two nights a week at Paddy’s Point Irish pub in La Zenia and we were there for eight years,” she says.
But the desire not to miss out on the lives of her grandchildren — aged six to 12 — and who all live relatively nearby to their home, in Dublin’s Rathoe, brought them back two years ago. “We hop in and out to one another and we can babysit for them. We missed them, you know. You’d be looking back and really regret that, if we missed them growing up.”
Eileen says she is “blessed” that she has been so healthy . She has never smoked and although she drank very little alcohol, she took the pioneer pledge at the age of 49. “I want to live to at least 100. I eat all the right stuff — real food like your mammy made and I take a cod liver oil capsule, but am not on any tablets.”
Although she is performing in early January in The Helix in the finale of the annual event, Ireland’s Showbands – Do You Come Here Often?, she has no plans for any other public performances in the immediate future. She is more focused on a goal to return to painting landscapes in oils, which she did for years in Spain, and perhaps have an exhibition later on next year. “It may never happen, but never say never!”
Because of her religious devotion she is not afraid of dying she says: “But it doesn’t mean just because I go to Mass every morning that I’m guaranteed to go to Heaven. Every day is different — I’m going to be tested to the end. I just hope that each day I do everything right and the Lord is merciful to me a sinner.”
Eileen is among a glittering line up of the original showband stars performing on Saturday, January 7 and Sunday, January 8, as a chapter closes on the annual Ireland’s Showbands — Do You Come Here Often? celebrating its 20th anniversary and its finale, at The Helix, Dublin.
Others performing are Brendan Bowyer (The Royal Showband), Paddy Cole (The Capitol), Philomena Begley (The Ramblin Men), Brian Coll (The Platterman + The Buckaroos), Roly Daniels (Green Country + The Nevada), Frankie McBride (The Polka Dots), Muriel Day (The Dave Glover ShowBand) with host George Jones and the Galaxy Showband.