Who’s that girl? Grieving Donaghmore family’s search to find mother’s singing partner

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A Donaghmore family are asking readers to help them identify an unknown singer depicted in a painting alongside their mother, popular musician Ethna McMahon, who died in 2015.

The McMahon family discovered the painting by Armagh artist Lorcan Vallely quite by accident after it was hung in an art gallery in Belfast. A friend spotted it after Ethna passed away and notified the family about the exciting discovery.

The painting, which was based on a local newspaper photograph and shows Ethna playing her beloved accordion at Benburb Sunday in 1979, now hangs in the space above Ethna’s piano at the family home.

To the foreground is an unidentified singer with dark hair wearing a long patterned dress.

Ethna’s husband, Aidan, said he discovered the original photograph when sorting through some of Ethna’s memorabilia last weekend.

“I was going through some old albums and letters which charted her musical career back to the early 1970s, including some letters from fans in Long Kesh, where she was invited to play a gig by Father Denis Faul”, said the popular former St Patrick’s Academy teacher.

“The photograph slipped out of the pile and I recognised it instantly. I never knew she had kept it, and it was amazing to think that it was the same picture the artist used to base his painting upon.

“Now my children and I would love to discover who the girl in the front of the painting is. She looks younger than Ethna and we think she may have been in her early teens. She may also have been dancing on the stage with Ethna, we’re not sure.

“It would be wonderful to solve the mystery and piece together this wonderful snapshot of Ethna’s life as a musician.”

The painting is now the family’s most treasured possession. Born Ethna Mary Loughran in 1954 - and affectionately known as ‘Skinny’, Ethna’s love of music filled her life to the brim.

A trained music teacher, she played piano-keyed accordion, accompanied on fiddle by her younger sister Patricia, in The Loughran Sisters group, appearing regularly at concerts, guest teas and charity events. They achieved Ulster and All-Ireland success and recorded their first LP, promoting the album on live radio, TV and stage.

“I feel blessed to have spent more than forty years as Ethna’s husband”, said Aidan.

“We had a wonderful life together. It feels so fitting to have found this painting of her. Of course, if Ethna was alive, she would have simply said: “Didn’t I always tell you I was an oil painting.”

If you recognise the young woman, email the Tyrone Times at anthony.quinn@jpress.co.uk