The unassuming gentle giant from Castleblayney became Ireland’s ‘King of Country’, amassing a legion of devoted fans both here and overseas with a string of hit records, writes Tom Gilmore.
Fans of Big Tom McBride will flock to his home area around Castleblayney, Co Monaghan, on September 18th and all during this month. They come to visit his grave and that of his beloved wife Rose, to pose for photographs beside his sculpture in the town, and also to visit the recently opened memorial garden in Oram.
While Big Tom is gone, his memory, and his legacy, lives on and September 18th would be his 86th birthday, as he was born on that date in 1936. September is one of the most important months in the calendar for Big Tom fans as that was the month that President Michael D. Higgins unveiled the sculpture of Tom in Castleblayney.
Thousands thronged the town on Sunday, September 23rd, 2019, five days after his birthday, and a year and half after he passed away in April 2018.
Musically his legacy lives on also with the release of his final recordings and a DVD of his last concert, filmed only a few months before he passed away. Some of his earlier albums, hitherto only available on vinyl, have been re-released in CD format and more are to follow.
His son Tom McBride Junior has been keeping the music tradition in the family alive with the release of a very successful album last Christmas titled My Father was Big Tom. Tom’s youngest son, Dermot, played with The Mainliners, The Travellers and The Outlaws, while a grandnephew of Big Tom, Damian Davis, has also released a number of singles.
Meanwhile on the football field, where Big Tom was a big star too in his native Oram, Co. Monaghan, his grandson Jason Duffy is now carrying on the sporting tradition in the neighbouring county on the Armagh senior football team. Other McBride grandchildren are also showing sporting potential.
Various TV documentaries have chronicled the career of Big Tom, most notably the Cloc le Cairn programme produced for RTÉ 1 by Sinéad Ní Churnáin which was screened several times on the station and on TG4.
A short documentary film titled The Making of Tom was co-produced by Taine King, Tom’s niece, It’s about the work of sculptor Mark Richardson from Wales, who made the bronze statue of Big Tom, and it was screened at the Galway Film Fleadh in 2019 and the Cork Film Fleadh this year.
But if he was still alive Big Tom would be self-effacing, to the point of being bashful about all this. To say that Big Tom was one of the most unassuming singing stars to interview is an understatement. Interviewing him some years ago for a few hours in his Oram home and looking out at what he called “the little hills of Monaghan”, Tom McBride was bashful to the point of almost being shy to talk about his success.