Swinging sisters who sang through the Belfast Blitz

The Golden Sisters - the sequel to Martha's Girls was launched by author Alrene Hughes in Belfast on Thursday night.
The Golden Sisters - the sequel to Martha's Girls was launched by author Alrene Hughes in Belfast on Thursday night.

The excitement, romance and tragedy of wartime Belfast was recalled on Thursday night when Ulster-born author Alrene Hughes launched her second novel at the NI War Memorial museum.

A poignant follow-up to the best-selling ‘Martha’s Girls’, it picks up on the fortunes of the three young sisters whose lives are transformed by the arrival of American troops in Northern Ireland.

The Golden Sisters were a talented trio performing as a close harmony swing group – grafting in the wartime factories by day before taking to the music hall stage at night. The new book begins during the Luftwaffe Blitz on the city in 1941 which brings danger, hardship and difficult decisions for the girls at the heart of a close-knit, fiery but loving family, and charts the progress of youngest sister Sheila as she comes of age and joins her three sisters on stage.

Although a work of fiction, events in what will become a trilogy of books are based on the real-life adventures of the author’s mum Irene Goulding and her sisters Pat, Peggy and Sheila.

Growing up in Belfast, the author had a keen interest in the history of the Second World War and the city’s contribution to the war effort. Now living in Manchester, Alrene had what she called her “eureka” moment around 12 years ago when she found a scrapbook kept by the sisters – full of concert programmes and other items including their Golden Sisters business card. The original scrapbook was on display at last night’s launch in the Talbot Street memorial building.

“The new book picks up where the last one left off after the Easter Tuesday bombing and it runs all the way through to the Americans arriving in the city,” Alrene said.

L-R The Golden Sisters author Alrene Hughes (daughter of Irene Goulding) along with Bernice Hutchinson and Noreen Parker (daughters of Sheila Goulding)

L-R The Golden Sisters author Alrene Hughes (daughter of Irene Goulding) along with Bernice Hutchinson and Noreen Parker (daughters of Sheila Goulding)

“There were far more concerts then and they were entertaining the Americans. It also moves out of the city: for example, one of the girls who works at Stormont makes a trip to Dublin and we see something of what is happening in Dublin at that time. The youngest daughter is also evacuated out into the country. It was a very, very dark time after the May bombings when so many people died. As time goes on in the book they are coming out of that, and the arrival of the Americans lifts people’s spirits and there is a real excitement about the place.”

The US troops brought more than a sense that the war was turning in the Allies’ favour, as Alrene explained.

“There is lots of romance of course and lots of new characters as well. It is a stand-alone novel so it’s not essential to have read Martha’s Girls to enjoy this one.”

The Golden Sisters is published by Blackstaff Press, priced £8.99, and is available from bookshops and online at www.amazon.co.uk.

The arrival of the Americans lifts people’s spirits and there is a real excitement about the place

Alrene Hughes
Scrapbook that became the inspiration for The Golden Sisters book

Scrapbook that became the inspiration for The Golden Sisters book