'Ireland's king of country music' Big Tom dies aged 81
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 Tuesday 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 and President Michael D Higgins have led tributes to the country singer.
Mr Varadkar said: “I was very saddened to hear of the death of Big Tom this morning.
“Big Tom was certainly a giant in Irish country music for over 50 years.”
The Taoiseach added: “His songs were a reflection of Irish life and an important connection for the Irish diaspora.
“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.”
Irish President Michael D Higgins said lovers and supporters of Irish music everywhere will have heard of the death with sadness.
“As one 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.
“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.”
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 added. "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."
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".
His Funeral Mass will be celebrated on Friday morning at St Patrick’s Church at Oram in Co Monaghan.