Bespoke gowns from the 50s, 60s and 70s, which belonged to legendary Donegal singer Bridie Gallagher, have found a home in Letterkenny's An Grianan Theatre.

These magnificent dresses have travelled the world, from the London Palladium and Royal Albert Hall to New York's Lincoln Centre and the Sydney Opera House - now they've returned to Gallagher's home county, courtesy of a donation from her family, and are now available to rent. View a gallery above...

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Below, Bridie's son Jim remembers his mum - and her unique sense of style.


Bridie went with her sister Sarah to see Judy Garland at the Theatre Royal in Dublin in July 1951, just a few months before her wedding to Bob Livingstone. She was then almost 26 years old and had been singing in local halls and dances, semi-professionally, for about 5 years.

She was now living in Belfast working during the day as a house keeper for a wealthy widow on the Malone Road. She was essentially a 'pop singer' at that time particularly keen on Bing Crosby and Vera Lynn and not the Irish Ballad singer she was later to become a couple of years later.

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At that time singers on concerts stood at centre stage where the main microphone stand was situated. In terms of dress, men wore dress suits and women usually plain black or pale coloured long dresses.

What Bridie experienced during Judy’s concert was transformative. First and foremost, Judy used a hand-held microphone (not a common feature at the time) and constantly roved about the stage focusing on different parts of the audience as she moved. She made dramatic hand movements and, most importantly, she made several dress changes during her performance, changing colours and styles. It was a very dynamic and colourful performance visually, and Bridie determined there and then that’s how she would perform thereafter.

All the short dresses are what Bridie wore when performing at dances. She felt the longer fuller gowns were more appropriate to theatres. But a number of the green/gold floor length dresses were her favourites when performing in cabaret.

Gradually she developed her stage craft in terms of movement and dress taking ideas from many other performers, but especially Doris Day whose style she tried to emulate. She took lots of advice from producers, dancers, and began creating her collection dresses, especially after 1954 when she became established as an Irish ballad singer with her first hit record A Mother’s Love’s A Blessing and was now increasingly performing in bigger and bigger venue around the world.

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All the short dresses in the collection are what Bridie wore when performing at dances. She felt the longer fuller gowns were more appropriate to theatres. But a number of the floor length dresses were her favourites when performing in cabaret.

During the 50’s and 60’s she bought all her dresses in London or New York. During the 70’s and beyond she started having her dresses made for her by a local dressmaker, Maria Trainor, who was originally from Italy and mainly created wedding dresses for local women. Bridie would show her magazine photos of designs and they jointly adapted these ideas to create her own unique designs.

At all times Bridie made sure that the design enabled a quick change, a light material that would not be too warm to wear in theatre lights, and invariably using a material that had some degree of sparkle which would look spectacular on stage under spotlights. Mary Trainor was a wonderful Italian lady with a loud laugh and very strong views on design and materials. So was Bridie. This made for some very loud and spirited 'debates' between the two as they created each dress. They were firm friends for the rest of their lives, long after both stopped working.

Bridie was persuaded on one occasion by Mrs Trainor that I had a good eye for colour and design. So she would take me to the Spinning Mill in Belfast or Cassidy’s in Dublin to choose new materials. On one occasion when she had flu she sent me to Dublin alone to choose some new material for dresses to be used on her next USA tour. I was about 21 and was keen to help but incredibly embarrassed as the only man in Cassidy’s that day exploring materials. I got lots of odd looks and refused to repeat the experience again. But I did get her some beautiful material.

She knew that many women in her audiences were as keen to see what new dress she would be wearing. As a result she kept a note in her diary of what dress was used in every venue. She regarded wearing the same dress twice at the same venue as short-changing her audience!

See more from the collection and make inquiries via the Bridie Gallagher Gúnaí Instagram page, or contact An Grianan Theatre here.