big tom tribute Family still astonished at turnout for King of Country's send-off on third anniversary of his passing
15,000 fans turned out to pay their respects to the family
As the body of Ireland's King of Country Big Tom McBride lay in public repose at a community centre in his native Co. Monaghan village three years ago, the much-loved singer's fans filed in from all corners of our island.
Yesterday, on the third anniversary of Big Tom's death, his eldest son Thomas told the Sunday World how the family were astonished by the scale of the crowds who made the pilgrimage to Oram to pay their respects that day.
"We were overwhelmed," Thomas says. "More than 15,000 people came through the doors and shook hands with us."
Thomas (55), who was a member of his father's band, The Travellers, during the late 1980s, knew how much people adored the iconic country singer.
"It was great to spend that time with him in the band and you saw how much he meant to people," Thomas tells me.
"He used to do over two hours on the stage, and then he'd spend the same amount of time talking to people afterwards.
"Dad appreciated all his fans. He didn't mind staying on after dances to talk to them. He stood for photographs and he signed autographs and he talked to everybody.
"He also had a great memory for names of people in the queue. He'd know them straight away by name when they'd come up to him. I used to marvel at that. So I experienced the stardom that he had and the camaraderie with the people."
Thomas says that during his childhood and teenage years he was also aware of the attraction that his father held for people as fans would arrive at the door of the McBride family home every Sunday.
"Oh my God, Sunday at our place was unbelievable with fans calling looking for photographs with him," Thomas laughs.
"That was in the '70s, '80s and '90s when Daddy was really in good health.
"They'd arrive from all corners of Ireland, from Malin Head to Castletownbere, and come knocking on the front door. They'd ask, 'Is Big Tom in?' You'd tell them, 'Yes, he is.' And the next question would usually be, 'Any chance of a photograph with him?'
"That would be week in and week out, and Daddy would never say no. He was always obliging because he knew that people made the effort to come to see him and to see where he lived.
"He'd never turn anybody away. He loved to meet people. He had great time for people."
At the peak of his success, which kicked off in the late 1960s, Big Tom created the same fanmania among the country and showband fans as The Beatles did on the pop scene.
In 1969, shortly after shooting to fame with his signature song, Gentle Mother, police on horseback had to be drafted in to control the crowd that swarmed around the Gresham Ballroom on London's Holloway Road, where he was appearing with The Mainliners.
In the 1980s he performed to more than 80,000 people in London's Roundwood Park.
And all around Ireland thousands of fans flocked to the ballrooms to experience the magic of Big Tom & The Mainliners, with the band playing six nights a week.
However, Thomas reveals that his father was never affected by his enormous fame, and had a low key presence in the family home.
"We never saw him as a star, he was just Dad to us," he says.
"The fame side sat very lightly on his shoulders. Dad was very special. He was very quiet. When he was around the house he was as quiet as a mouse. You wouldn't know Daddy was about the place unless he was out on a tractor, or on a quad bike in latter years.
"He kept to himself. You might find him out in the garden getting it ready to sow vegetables and spuds.
"He just did his own thing and planted away. If he wanted a hand with a plough he'd give you a shout.
"There were never any airs or graces with Dad. He'd get up in the morning, have his bowl of porridge and then he'd be down to the shop to get the paper. He'd meet the locals and have a chat with them.
"He lived a very simple life." Big Tom was devastated in January 2018 when his beloved wife, Rose, died. Four months later his own life slipped away.
Then the following November the McBride family were left heartbroken again when Rita Bogdanova, the partner of Tom and Rose's son, Dermot, died in childbirth."
Three years on, Thomas says his family has come to terms with the trauma and heartbreak of their personal losses.
"We're doing great now," he tells me. "We'd be very close as a family. If there was something wrong we'd all bunch in and talk about it and see could we help each other."
Thomas has just release a cover of his father's biggest hit, Gentle Mother, with a video now available on YouTube, and has dedicated it to his mother, Rose.
"Me and Mam had such a great relationship," he adds. "It was very special. I could talk to Mam about anything and she was always there to advise me. We were that close that sometimes she nearly knew what I was going to say before I'd say it."
- Thomas McBride Jnr's video for Gentle Mother is now available on YouTube.
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