Sunday 27 May 2018

'He may be gone but he'll live on' - Thousands attend funeral of Big Tom, and see graveside performance

The coffin is carried from St Patricks Church after the funeral of Big Tom in Oram, Co. Monaghan. Picture credit; Damien Eagers
The coffin is carried from St Patricks Church after the funeral of Big Tom in Oram, Co. Monaghan. Picture credit; Damien Eagers
The coffin arrives at st Patricks church in Oram, Co. Monaghan for the funeral of Big Tom. Picture credit; Damien Eagers
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

TEARS streamed down the faces of Big Tom’s devoted fans as they gathered at his graveside to sing together with the cream of Irish country music.

Daniel O’Donnell and sister Margo, Susan McCann, Michael English and Robert Mizzell along with the remaining band members of the Mainliners gave a poignant performance in tribute to the King of Irish Country, laid to rest in the old graveyard of his beloved Oram, outside Castleblayney, Co Monaghan.

Everyone joined in for ‘Gentle Mother’ – the song that had  first catapulted the quiet singer to fame and poignantly, Margo sang alone ‘A Love That Lasts Forever’ – the duet that she had recorded with Big Tom last year.

Upwards of 2,000 people attended the funeral at St Patrick’s Church in Oram, which barely seats 200 people. Everyone else was content to stand outside, spilling out onto the roadway.

“We couldn’t miss this,” said fan Julie Healy, from Glenamaddy, Co Galway – and who bore a large placard saying “Farewell Big Tom from your fans from the Four Roads of Glenamaddy.”

“There’ll never be another Big Tom,” she said.

Margo O'Donnell, with her brother Daniel, left, Susan McCann and Michael English singing at the graveside of Big Tom after his funeral at St Patricks church in Oram, Co. Monaghan. Picture credit; Damien Eagers
Margo O'Donnell, with her brother Daniel, left, Susan McCann and Michael English singing at the graveside of Big Tom after his funeral at St Patricks church in Oram, Co. Monaghan. Picture credit; Damien Eagers

Daniel O’Donnell said Big Tom was the King and he will always be the king. “He may be gone but he’ll live on,” he said.

“It’s a huge loss here for the people,” he said, saying the main thing about Tom was that he had been one of the people wherever he went.

A quiet and humble man, Daniel said Big Tom “didn’t carry the title of King very well,” adding that he had a connection that you couldn’t explain. Testament to that was the amount of people who had come to pay him tribute, he said.

Amongst those who turned out to pay their last respects was country music singer Philomena Begley, Margo, Susan McCann and Dickie Rock.

Country roads: Big Tom in action with his band during his heyday in the mid-1970s
Country roads: Big Tom in action with his band during his heyday in the mid-1970s

Big Tom’s children Thomas, Dermot, Aisling and Siobhan and his sister Madge led the mourners.

Chief celebrant Fr Leo Creelman said it was a heart-breaking replay of events for the McBride family since “just less than 80 days ago, they were here in the same church for the funeral of Tom’s devoted and beloved wife Rose.”

“To lose one parent is heart breaking but Thomas, Dermot, Aishling and Siobhan to lose both parents within a matter of months, we just can’t begin to imagine the sense of grief, sadness or emptiness that you must feel at this time,” he said.

When Rose died, a massive part of Tom went with her, said Fr Leo.

“He was lost, dazed and broken hearted,” he said.

“Big Tom was the face and voice that everyone seen and heard but Rose was the engine behind his success. In the background, she was the grounding mechanism, the compass and the refuge needed, to one of the most popular Irish country singing stars of our times.”

He said that Tom and Rose had a partnership that worked, an example of where each spouse cared for the other more than themselves.

He said Tom had an amazing presence when he walked into a room or onto a stage.

“He was a man big in stature, matched up with an even bigger heart. Despite all his success and fame, he always remained humble and down to earth and first and foremost a family man.”

Often described as a legend, a giant, an icon, a king – but they were titles he richly deserve and earned after decades of success in the country music scene, culminating with a lifetime achievement award at the Irish Country Music Awards in 2016, he said.

But despite all this, Fr Leo said that Tom was also an ordinary family man who was very much down to earth.

“Locals here would often see Tom travelling round the little roads on his quad. Not only see him but hear him too as that noisy exhaust never seemed to get fixed,” he quipped.

Tom would raise chicks from eggs in the front room, had a healthy interest in vintage tractors and would water ski on Lough Muckno – “falling off many times, quickly getting to know every stone in the water,” he said.

He said the world was made a richer and happier place because of Big Tom.

At the graveside, Big Tom’s next door neighbour Jim O’Neill spoke warmly of the country star saying his spirit, legacy and his music would live on.

Despite his recent ill health, he had braved the elements to act as Grand Marshall for the local St Patrick’s Day parade, Mr O’Neill said.

Big Tom had put Oram on the map and had made everyone famous. “We glowed with it,” he said.

The singer was laid to rest in the old country church yard alongside his beloved wife Rose, as his heartbroken country music colleagues sang him out for one last time.

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