Monday 24 June 2019

Coffin of 'King of Country' Big Tom applauded as he begins final journey

Politicians, musicians, religious leaders and sportsmen join in tributes to 'King of Country'

Big Tom McBride with fellow Irish music legend Daniel O’Donnell. Photo: James Flynn
Big Tom McBride with fellow Irish music legend Daniel O’Donnell. Photo: James Flynn

Allison Bray

The worlds of politics, religion, music and sport were united in sadness last night as people from all walks of life paid tribute to Irish country music legend Big Tom McBride.

Tributes poured in from across the nation, as news spread that the much-loved 'King of Country' had passed away yesterday morning with his family at his side following an illness. He was 81.

He was revered on both sides of the Border, filling ballrooms and dance halls during the 1960s and 1970s when people would travel from across the country to see him in a career spanning five decades.

The farmer from Oram, Co Monaghan, was credited with coining the term "Country and Irish".

President Michael D Higgins, a long-time fan, described Big Tom as "one of the most charismatic and influential artists in Irish country music".

"Big Tom was widely respected and through his five decades of music-making he leaves a lasting legacy," he said.

"His name will be recalled with fond memory by those who listened, and danced to, his and his band members' nights of entertainment all over the island of Ireland.

"A big personality and one of the country's greatest country stars, his love of music and his passion and skill have enriched Ireland's music scene.

"As President of Ireland, I wish to express my deepest sympathies to his children Thomas, Dermot, Aisling and Siobhan, the members of his family, his friends and to the countless numbers of people, at home and abroad, who loved the man and his music."

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar described him as a "giant in Irish country music for over 50 years".

"With his band The Mainliners, he filled dance halls the length and breadth of the country. His songs were a reflection of Irish life and an important connection for the Irish diaspora," Mr Varadkar said.

"Not many people are known by their first name, but that was Big Tom.

"It shows his popularity and legendary status as the king of Irish country music."

Fellow singer Daniel O'Donnell said there were simply "no words to describe his greatness".

But he said it was the legendary singer who inspired him to go on to a career in music, and his massive presence will be sadly missed.

"There are people who have a presence - and Big Tom had it in abundance when he walked in somewhere," he told RTÉ Radio One host Ryan Tubridy, who dedicated his morning show to the singer yesterday.

Showband legend Paddy Cole, who was childhood friends with Tom and had the honour of inducting him into the Irish Country Music Hall of Fame in 2016, described him as "a man of the people".

"He was an ordinary, big fella and he had a great sense of humour," Cole told Seán O'Rourke on RTÉ Radio One.

"He changed the whole scene in the country scene in Ireland."

Singer Aidan Quinn (37), the son of country music legend Philomena Begley, said: "I have nothing but admiration for him, the simplicity of his life.

"He was such an iconic figure but an ordinary, down-to-earth man.

"He would be at a show with thousands of people but he would always make the time for the likes of myself and everyone."

And despite his fame, he never let it go to his head and was more interested in "talking about Massey Fergusons than music", he said of Tom's love of vintage tractors and farm equipment.

'Sunday World' columnist and broadcaster Fr Brian D'Arcy was among a number of clergy who also paid their respects to Tom's memory.

A personal friend for 50 years, he described him as a "lovely, gentle man".

"He was the one that everybody looked up to.

"He was the one that probably the elitists sort of looked down their noses at and Big Tom outlasted them all," he said.

"At his last gig he was able to bring a thousand people into his show, who still adored the ground he walked on, who still loved him as a friend and as a singer, who still appreciated what he had done for them, who still made their hearts want to dance every time he opened his mouth and sang.

"Tom was one of them, but he was their king as well."

Irish Independent

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