Statue of Country Star 'Big Tom' McBride hailed as fitting tribute

Johnney Fee, from Dungannon, arrives for the unveiling of a statue of late country singer Big Tom McBride in Castleblaney as the inaugural festival in his honour concludes
Johnney Fee, from Dungannon, arrives for the unveiling of a statue of late country singer Big Tom McBride in Castleblaney as the inaugural festival in his honour concludes

The son of Irish country singer "Big Tom" McBride has praised a new statue of him as a "fitting tribute".

Irish President Michael D Higgins unveiled the monument to Big Tom in Castleblayney on Sunday.

He praised it as "a wonderful testament to the popularity of Big Tom".

"That love for Big Tom, his music and the man he was is something that you know best but of course share, not only with people across our island of Ireland, not only in Irish communities across the world, but with many other peoples from different cultures," he said.

Big Tom, who was a huge star in the 60s and 70s, died in April aged 81, as the statue and festival in his honour were in the process of being planned.

The entertainer's son, Thomas, described the unveiling of the bronze statue of his father as a celebratory moment, tinged with sadness.

The Co Monaghan town centre was packed on Sunday with over a thousand fans travelling from across Ireland and further afield.

There were cheers as Mr Higgins unveiled the statue, before a rush of fans eager to see it up close and get their photo taken with it.

Thomas told those assembled that his family were devastated his mother Rose, who also died earlier this year, as well as his father were not there to see it.

"The main focus of my few words is to give thanks, and we have many people to thank for making this day possible," he said.

"This day is a very proud day for the McBride family, celebratory yet tinted with sadness, for they have departed, Mum and Dad.

"We are devastated that Mum and Dad aren't here today, I know they would have loved it.

"Thank you all."

Big Tom and the Mainliners were formed in the 1960s and achieved widespread success.

Henry McMahon, another member of the Mainliners, also described it as a day tinged with sadness.

"It's a wonderful day, tinged with sadness, but it's no less than Big Tom deserves, he was an icon, and still is an icon," he told the Press Association.

UK-based sculptor Mark Richards said he had never seen a crowd like it, in the unveiling of all the pieces he has worked on.

He explained initially he had considered a sculpture of Big Tom on stage performing, but later decided on the sitting pose without the microphone in front of him, like a "barrier" between him and his fans.

That option was chosen by the family who felt it best reflected Tom's approachability and "man of the people" persona.

Among the fans in attendance were Richard and Marian Phillips from Co Kildare.

"I have been following Big Tom since 1971, he had a lovely manner, very natural, very down to earth, everyone was his friend," said Mr Phillips, who was wearing a Big Tom T-shirt.

Myles Kavanagh had travelled from Kilkenny and dressed as Elvis for the occasion.

"It's magnificent, Big Tom would be proud of us all, Big Tom was the king of country, I may be the king of rock'n'roll but he was the king of country, we'll always have Big Tom in our memories," he said.

"He was so kind, he brought so much happiness to people with his music and he was a gentleman on and off the stage."

The unveiling came during the inaugural Castleblayney Celebrates Big Tom Festival, which opened on Culture Night and continued across the weekend.

McBride's career spanned more than five decades, culminating in his induction into the Irish Country Music Awards Hall of Fame in June 2016.