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Bernadette brings Over 60s singing title to West Cork

July 17th, 2016 11:50 AM

By Jackie Keogh

Bernadette and her trophy with, from left, Cllr Chris O'Leary, Paddy O'Brien, Deputy Mícheál Martin and Minister Simon Coveney. Below: Bernadette with Celtic Ross Hotel manager Neil Grant, when she won her heat of the Over 60s Talent Competition in Rosscarbery in March of this year.

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A COMPELLING singer from Dunmanway has brought the Over 60s Talent Competition title to West Cork for the first time.

Bernadette Milner from Derry, but now living in Ballinacarriga in Dunmanway, read about the competition in The Southern Star.

She said she entered the competition with the intention of simply enjoying the event, never thinking for one second that she would win the competition, when it was staged in City Hall in May.

‘As it turned out,’ Bernadette said, ‘it proved to be one of the most memorable and exciting nights I have had in many years.’

Each of the fourteen finalists demonstrated that they had the chops to make it to the final, but Bernadette’s talent – her power and range – made her an obvious winner on the night. Bernadette, a former primary school teacher, said her win was every bit as exciting as her first flush of success at the age of five when she performed in a local Feis.

As a teacher, she has shared her love of performing with her young charges, who delight in singing and choral work, as well as playing the keyboard, tin whistle and guitar.

Bernadette clearly didn’t lick it off a stone. Her youngest brother, Feargal, is also an accomplished musician, having worked with Derry’s famous composer Phil Coulter.

Feargal is presently musical director with Camille O’Sullivan and Tommy Fleming and is busy planning an American tour with a group of Celtic Tenors.

It was on the dance floor of The Silver Slipper in 1981 that Bernadette met West Cork native, Jerry Milner, and lost no time in relocating to West Cork, where they happily raised a family of four. ‘I’m now a grandmother to two beautiful boys,’ said Bernadette, who is as gracious and elegant as she is trim and talented.

It was only in October that she retired as principal of Ballinacarriga National School, so the over 60s competition couldn’t have come at a better time for her. She said: ‘I was delighted to find that even in my retirement I could still do something I love so much.’ 

After taking part in the quarter final, which was held in The Celtic Ross Hotel, Bernadette progressed to the semi-final in City Hall. There she met the 20 other semi-finalists and discovered that she was the ‘baby’ of the group.

‘I might have been the youngest competitor but they, like me, all loved their music,’ said Bernadette, who, nevertheless, was thrilled to hear her name being called out on the night of the final – an event that was staged in front of 1,000 people.

The event – which was attended by the then Lord Mayor, Chris O’Leary, along with Minister Simon Coveney and Mícheál Martin TD – is a charity fundraiser with the proceeds going to The Irish Heart Foundation.

Bernadette said great credit must go to Paddy O’Brien, the competition organiser. She recalled how Barry Dempsey, the chief executive of The Irish Heart Foundation, paid a special tribute to Paddy on the night.

‘It was the 40th anniversary of the event and everyone present was impressed by the fact that the annual event had raised €500,000 for the Irish Heart Foundation.

When contacted for a comment, Paddy O’Brien said the event he started in 1997 was much more modest then. ‘Initially,’ he said, ‘I started it as a means of trying to combat loneliness amongst the elderly.’

But things change and time moves on and now the Over 60s Talent Competition has grown to become the biggest social event in Ireland for ‘senior citizens’ who are tremendously engaged, active and competitive.

 It is an over 60s competition but there are plenty of people in the 70s and 80s who are very involved, including the most senior contestant this year – an 85-year-old gentleman named Maurice Newman.

Anyone interested in taking part in next year’s competition might be interested to know that the local heats will be starting in January. Any group, or organisation, in West Cork that would like to find out more can contact Paddy O’Brien on 086 8105585, or by calling the Irish Heart Foundation on 021 4505822.

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