Tributes paid to `King' of Irish country music Big Tom

Big Tom, known as the `King' of Irish country music, has died at the age of 81. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Marie Louise McConville

THE 'King' of Irish Country Big Tom McBride has been described as "the greatest" following his death at the age of 81.

The Co Monaghan-born singer was a huge star in the 1960s and 70s, filling ballrooms and becoming affectionately known as Ireland's king of country music.

In a statement his family said the well-known entertainer - whose career spanned more than five decades - had passed away early yesterday.

President Michael D Higgins led tributes last night describing him as "one of the most charismatic and influential artists in Irish country music".

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

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he was "very saddened" to hear of Big Tom's death, describing the performer 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," he said.

Born near Castleblayney, Tom McBride initially left school in his teens to work on the family farm but by 1965, had formed a band The Mainliners.

The following year, the band - whose hits included Old Log Cabin For Sale and Broken Marriage Vows - appeared on RTÉ's The Showband Show, performing another tune, Gentle Mother.

Following the appearance, the song became a huge hit.

During the 60s and the following decade the band had established a huge army of fans, packing out venues all around the country.

In the late seventies he left The Mainliners to form The Travellers, whose popular hits included Four Country Roads and Back to Castleblayney.

A few years later, the singer was presented with a Gold Award for sales of more than one million records.

The Monaghan man was also the first inductee into the Irish Country Music Awards Hall of Fame on RTÉ One in 2016.

In recent years, Big Tom had suffered health problems and was previously hospitalised in 2006 after suffering a heart attack.

Last year, he was among a host of country stars who performed at a benefit gig in Letterkenny, which helped raise €30,000 to aid those who had been affected by flooding in Co Donegal.

Following his death yesterday, a host of well-known Irish faces paid tribute to the showband legend.

Singer Daniel O'Donnell said Big Tom "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 will be missed so, so much. He was the greatest. It's just so sad".

Fellow showband star Dickie Rock said Big Tom 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."

Co Tyrone singer Philomena Begley said Big Tom "loved singing and loved getting on the stage".

"I'm very sad because I didn't realise he was as ill as he was. I'm shocked more than anything."

She added:"He was a character in his own right... he'd light up a room because he was full of devilment too you know."

Former radio presenter and photographer, Bobby Hanvey, from Co Down, described Big Tom's death as a "big loss".

"I recorded and photographed him back in the eighties and called up to his house in Monaghan and found him a complete gentleman, a lovely, lovely man.

"There was nothing put on about him. He was just himself. He was very talented. He will be a big loss but his music is still here".

Tom McBride's wife Rose passed away in January. The couple had been married for 50 years.

They are survived by their four children, Thomas, Dermot, Aisling and Siobhán.

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