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'We called him the King': Tributes as country singer Big Tom McBride dies aged 81

His family have confirmed funeral details for this Friday morning.

Updated at 4.40pm

THE PRESIDENT, THE Taoiseach and figures from the world of Irish country music have been paying tribute following the death of singer Big Tom McBride, who passed away this morning aged 81.

“It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our dear father Big Tom McBride (RIP) this morning,” a statement on the singer’s official Facebook page said.

“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.

McBride’s wife Rose had passed away at the end of January.

The Monaghan country star, best known as frontman of Big Tom and the Mainliners, had been playing live up until recently.

He formed the Mainliners in the mid 1960s – and made a career breakthrough after an appearance on RTÉ’s Showband Show singing ‘Gentle Mother’.

The group remained a huge live draw, touring in Ireland and the UK throughout the 70s. The singer left the Mainliners to forge a solo career towards the end of the decade.

He recorded a popular series called King of Country Music in the 1980s, later reuniting with his original band.

Big Tom was playing live up until late last year – including an appearance at a benefit concert for victims of the Donegal floods alongside Nathan Carter.

He was honoured with a lifetime achievement award at the Irish Country Music Awards in 2016.

Source: The Late Late Show/YouTube

Daniel O’Donnell, who said he was “speechless”, paid tribute to McBride on this morning’s Ryan Tubridy Show on Radio 1.

Speaking of his memories of the singer during the early days of his own career, he described him “a pillar” of the Irish country music scene.

“We all referred to him as the King,” O’Donnell said.

“He reached out to people in Ireland and those people who had emigrated from Ireland.

He will be missed so, so much. He was the greatest.

‘Big personality’

President Michael D Higgins said that lovers and supporters of Irish music everywhere would have heard the news of the death of Big Tom McBride 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,” a statement 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 of Irish country.

“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,” the Taoiseach’s statement 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.
I want to extend my condolences to his family and his huge army of fans.

File Photo Big Tom Has Died. End. Big Tom pictured with President Mary McAleese during a visit to the Áras in 2001. Source: RollingNews.ie

Philomena Begley, who also spoke to Tubridy, described McBride as being “full of divilment”.

“He was always in good form,” the veteran Irish singer said.

The one thing Big Tom had when he started to sing – he had a great beat that made everyone want to dance.
He was a great, great man to dance to.

In an emotional tribute, Margo O’Donnell said her heart was broken at the news: ”The only thing I’m happy about is that he’s with Rose.”

Declan Nerney said he was a phenomenon. “The people who bought into Big Tom’s style of music, it was like a religion,” the singer said.

Monsignor Joseph McGuinness described his influence to Irish cultural and social life as ”enormous” and spoke of Big Tom’s pivotal role in the community of his native Oram.

The word ‘legend’ is often overused on occasions like this, but in Tom’s case it is truly fitting and well deserved.  During his life, Tom brought great joy to many people, both in Ireland and worldwide, through his singing and his music.

Culture Minister Josepha Madigan, Minister for Rural Development Michael Ring and Fine Gael Cavan-Monaghan TD Heather Humphreys – a former Culture Minister – also released statements paying tribute to the singer.

Independent TD for Tipperary Mattie McGrath, who has mentioned Big Tom in the Dáil on more than one occasion, paid this tribute on Facebook:

I first danced to Big Tom in Monaghan in 1978. He truly was a pillar of the Country Music scene and will be sadly missed. Throughout his career he reached out to people across the country and was a great source of entertainment providing a connection to Irish immigrants around the globe.

The Late Late Show is due to host a country music special this Friday night.

“We’re going to give Big Tom a seriously hale and hearty send off and one that I hope his family will be proud of,” Tubridy told his listeners.

His funeral, which will be broadcast live on Northern Sound, will take place on Friday at St Patrick’s Church in Oram at 11am.

Fans and friends will be able to pay their respects on Wednesday at Oram Community Centre, where the singer will be lying in public reposal between midday and 8pm.

Read: Cabinet to discuss possibility of Ireland getting its own Independence Day >

Read: As the rain clears, temperatures are set to hit the high teens >

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