Tributes paid to 'Big Tom' as music legend dies at 81
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 country as news spread that the much-loved 'King of Irish Country' 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".
Big Tom returned to the streets of his beloved town of Castleblaney yesterday, where a large crowd gathered to pay their respects as the hearse passed.
Local woman Berry Lynch said Tom and his wife Rose, who died in January, were extremely close.
"You'd never see one without the other," she said.
She said that at his wife's graveside less than three months ago, Tom had told Rose: "I won't be long after you."
He was described by long-time fan President Michael D Higgins (inset) as "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' generous 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".
However, he said it was the legendary singer who inspired him to go on to a career in music and that his massive presence will be sadly missed.
"There's people who have a presence and Big Tom had it in abundance when he walked in somewhere," he told RTE Radio One host Ryan Tubridy, who dedicated his morning show to the singer yesterday.
O'Donnell still has fond memories of going to dances in the late 1970s and early 1980s and hearing Big Tom sing his hit Four Country Roads and other favourites.
"Country music is richer because of him, he has left so much behind", he said, adding Tom was also a welcome voice from home for Irish expatriates.
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 Sean O'Rourke on his Today show on RTE Radio One.
"He changed the whole 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."
Despite his fame, he never let it go to his head and was more interested in "talking about Massey Fergusons than music", he said, referencing Tom's love of vintage tractors and farm equipment.
Broadcaster Fr Brian D'Arcy was among a number of clergy who also paid their respects to Big 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," Fr D'Arcy 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."
Monsignor Joseph McGuinness, of the Diocese of Clogher in Tom's parish, said he was a true legend.
"The word 'legend' is often overused on occasions like this, but in Tom's case it is truly fitting and well deserved.
Tom was also a big supporter of the GAA and was given his famous moniker by his local Oram Sarsfields club where he played as a midfielder in his youth. He also went on to become the club's president.
The Monaghan County Board also paid tribute to him in a post on Twitter in which Monaghan GAA offered its sympathy to the McBride family.