Belfast Telegraph

Friends lead tributes to Big Tom, giant of country music

Irish music star Philomena Begley
Irish music star Philomena Begley

By Brett Campbell

The Queen of Irish country music has paid tribute to The King - legendary showband frontman Tom McBride, after he died of a 'broken heart' yesterday.

Country giant Tom McBride, who rose to fame as Big Tom in the thriving 60s and 70s music scene, died at the age of 81 just months after the death of his wife Rose.

"Dad passed away peacefully in the company of his family," a statement read. "He will be sadly missed by all who knew him, may he rest in peace."

Irish music star Philomena Begley (75), who established herself on the same scene four years before Tom in 1962, hailed his extraordinary contribution to the world of Irish country.

"He brought his own style and personality to everything he did," she said.

The Pomeroy-born performer described McBride as an "inspiration" and "a true gentleman" who will be sadly missed.

"Our paths didn't cross very often as we criss-crossed the country bringing our music to the masses but we were billed together on guest spots and award shows," she said.

"Occasionally though, our bands would stop along the road at the usual food haunts and we always enjoyed a good showbiz chat and catch up - they are fond memories to be treasured."

Tributes poured in from across the world of Irish music for the former frontman of the popular showband Big Tom and the Mainliners. His career, which spanned more than five decades, culminated with his induction into the Irish Country Music Awards Hall of Fame in 2016.

Crooner Daniel O'Donnell said his friend was "probably heartbroken" after the passing of his wife Rose in January this year, just months after they were at the Opry Dhoire together in Londonderry.

"His family I'm sure are just devastated, it's just so sad - I'm just speechless," he said.

Speaking to RTE, he described the singer as the pillar of country music in Ireland who everyone referred to as 'The King'.

"There's people who have presence and Big Tom had it in abundance when he walked into the room," he added.

Foster and Allen band member Tony Allen also expressed his sadness at the loss of his idol.

"I loved the man and his music," he said.

"Over the years my wife Trionagh and I became great friends with this King of Irish country music," he said.

Country star Trionagh, who sang backing vocals for Big Tom at last year's Opry, said she will treasure the honour forever.

"Tom was then, as he always has been, a pure gentleman," she said.

"He sang from his heart and, while we are sad for his family's loss, we are happy that he is joining his dear wife - may they both rest in peace together."

Tyrone singer Cliona Hagan expressed her deep sadness on Twitter.

"Your music or your unmistakable voice will never be forgotten," she wrote.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Irish President Michael D Higgins also expressed their own personal sadness following the death of the country music legend.

Mr Varadkar described Tom's songs as "a reflection of Irish life" which served as an "important connection for the Irish diaspora".

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

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

Mr Higgins acknowledged Tom as "one of the most charismatic and influential artists" whose music will leave "a lasting legacy" as he offered condolences to his family.

He said Tom's name will be "recalled with fond memory" by people all over the island who listened and danced to his music.

Friends can pay their respects to Tom, who was from Castleblayney in Co Monaghan, this afternoon at the Oram Community Centre where he will be lying in repose.

A funeral Mass will be held at St Patrick's Church in the town on Friday morning.

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