Saturday 20 July 2019

'We referred to him as the king' - tributes pour in as country music singer Big Tom dies aged 81

Big Tom. Photo: North West Newspix
Big Tom. Photo: North West Newspix Newsdesk Newsdesk

Legendary country music singer Big Tom has died aged 81.

Tributes have began pouring in for the late singer, who was dubbed the 'Ireland's king of country music' since dominating the showband scene in the 1960s.

The showband leader from Co Monaghan, whose real name was Thomas McBride, passed away in the early hours of this morning. His children announced the news via his Facebook page, writing: "It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our dear father Big Tom McBride (RIP) this morning. Dad passed away peacefully in the company of his family.

"He will be sadly missed by all who knew him. May he rest in peace."

'Big Tom' had suffered with health problems over the years and was previously hospitalised in 2006 after suffering a heart attack.

He leaves behind four children. Tom's wife of more than 50 years Rose died in February.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he was “very saddened” to hear of the death of Big Tom.

“Big Tom was certainly 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.

He added: “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.

“I want to extend my condolences to his family and his huge army of fans."

Crooner Daniel O'Donnell spoke about his relationship with the late singer, saying that Tom's music connected the Irish diaspora over the years.

"He reached out to people in Ireland, and those who had emigrated from Ireland  In the days so many people lived in England and their connection with home was all the music and dances at the weekend. He meant so much to people and so much to the country singers in Ireland," he told RTE Radio One.

"He will be missed so, so much. He was the greatest."

O'Donnell said he believes Tom's health deteriorated after his wife's passing.

"It's just so sad," he said on RTE Radio One. "On the other hand, he was probably heartbroken without his wife, Rose. Maybe for him, it's a gift from God.

"His family, I'm sure they are just devastated at his passing.

"I'm sure since Rose died, his life was darker. Every step Tom took, Rose was a step behind him.

"I can't assume anything, only there is a great reunion in heaven today."

Big Tom appeared on The Late Late Show several times and host Ryan Tubridy paid tribute to him this morning.

"Big Tom was the King of Country for good reason. Today we've lost an icon and a man who was of great stature, both musically and personally," he said.

"He is somebody who will be greatly missed by us on The Late Late Show and by me personally. I enjoyed tremendously meeting him on more than one occasion and getting to know him a little bit and certainly enough to know that this is truly a sad day for the country music scene in Ireland. He will be missed by us all." 

Showbands star Dickie Rock said he got to know Big Tom in the past couple of years and found him "so nice, such a nice gentle man".

Speaking on Ireland AM, Dickie added, "He was loved because, one thing he was a talented man and he sang the kind of music people wanted to hear, but what is also nice and very important was that he was a very nice man.  He appealed to people and people knew looking at the show on stage that he was a nice man."

Fellow singer Philomena Begley also paid tribute on TV3's Ireland Am, saying, "I'm very sad because I didn't realise he was as ill as he was.  I'm shocked more than anything."

She said they would meet up while touring over the years for a chat and to get something to eat and she added that he "loved singing and loved getting on the stage".

Singer Paddy Cole grew up with Big Tom in Co Monaghan.  He said, "It's a sad day for everyone.  We grew up in Castleblayney so we knew each other when we were kids. We kept in touch through the years and I presented him with a Hall of Fame award on RTE radio."

He added, "He was a very likeable, honest to God country fella", "a very droll, likeable fella" and "a great character".  He also said he was the "original showband star".

Mike Denver spoke to Ireland AM about Big Tom's most enduring hits and his legacy.

"Big Tom and the Mainliners were the biggest band ever in this country whether you're into pop or rock or you're young or old.  He's one of those names everyone knows," he said, adding that he "paved the pathway for all of us to do what we're doing now."

Denver said that Big Tom was somebody all the stars who followed him would emulate in different ways but he had a "unique voice which really stands out".

He added that Tom was "someone who was very relaxed.  I suppose he didn't really like to be the centre of attention.  There would be guys fighting over different slots, closing slots, closing the first half and Big Tom would be there with his whiskey in one hand, cigarette in the other, and he'd just say, 'Call me when you need me'."

Minister Michael Ring TD, Minister for Rural and Community Development, has expressed his condolences to the star's family.

“Big Tom’s music provided the soundtrack to the lives of generations of Irish people. It’s no surprise that people around the country are so saddened by his passing. We have lost a giant of Irish music," he said.

“Big Tom was a real gentleman and, despite being a huge star, he remained one of the people. I would like to express my sincere condolences to his family during this difficult time. It is doubly sad for them as Big Tom’s wife, Rose, passed away recently.”

Monsignor Joseph McGuinness issued a statement on behalf of the Diocese of Clogher.

“Like many people around the country, we have all learned with great sadness of the death of Big Tom.  The word ‘legend’ is often overused on occasions like this, but in Tom’s case it is truly fitting and well deserved.  During his life, Tom brought great joy to many people, both in Ireland and worldwide, through his singing and his music.  His contribution to Irish social and cultural life in this area has been enormous.

“But Tom McBride was more than just a singer.  Above all, he was a family man.  Tom, and his late wife Rose, formed a strong team in their household and in the wider community.  Tom was a pivotal member of the community in his native Oram, where he contributed greatly through farming and sport.  He was very proud of that community and of County Monaghan in general.

“On behalf of the priests and people of the Diocese of Clogher, I pray that God will grant Big Tom eternal rest and I extend to his family our prayers and sincere sympathy at this time.”

Fans and friends of Big Tom may pay their respects between 12 noon and 8pm on Wednesday April 18 in Oram Community Centre in the Parish of Castleblayney, Co Monaghan, where his remains will be lying in repose. 

Big Tom's house is strictly private.  The removal of the remains will take place on Friday morning and funeral mass will be celebrated at 11am in Saint Patrick’s Church, Oram.  The remains of Big Tom McBride will be buried after mass in the adjoining cemetery.

Shannonside-Northern Sound radio (96.3 FM) will broadcast the funeral mass at 11am on Friday. 

Read more: 'We've lost an icon' - Friday's Late Late Show Country Special to pay tribute to Big Tom

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