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Connacht Tribune

Galway journalist launches new book on life of Big Tom

Francis Farragher

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Back in 1967, as a young teenager making the daily trek to Tuam Vocational School, known to everyone at the time as ‘The Tech’, Tom Gilmore first started listening to Irish country music legend Big Tom when he topped the Irish charts with his first hit Gentle Mother.

Little did Tom Gilmore realise at the time, that just over 50 years later, he would be the author of the book that would chart and chronicle the life of a man who left an indelible mark on the Irish music scene through close on six decades.

The seed for the book, Big Tom, The King of Irish Country, was sown over a year ago when Big Tom McBride was still alive, although in ailing health, when the O’Brien Press contacted Tom Gilmore about the possibility of such a project.

For one reason or another, it wasn’t followed up on at the time, but in early May, shortly after Big Tom had passed away, the call came again from Michael O’Brien, MD of O’Brien Press, with the request to write the book – 60,000 words required (it actually ended up at 63,000 words).

“I suppose that it was a bit daunting but it was a great honour too as over the years I had become great friends with Big Tom and his family. One of the things that made it possible for me on a practical level was the fact that I had retired so I could throw myself full-time into the job,” Tom Gilmore told the Connacht Tribune.

About eight of nine years previously, Tom Gilmore had done a two-hour radio special with Big Tom for Galway Bay FM and as luck would have it, in a trawl through the attic, he unearthed two ‘mini-discs’ with the contents of those interviews and that was a great start.

While Tom Gilmore might have listened to Gentle Mother on the radio back in ’67 he was still a couple of years too young for the dancehall scene but on a Saturday night in 1969 he eventually made it to the Sound of Music in Glenamaddy (under the stewardship of the late Joe O’Neill), and from there on he was ‘hooked’.

Back around 1973, Tom Gilmore along with Michael Lyster, now of RTE, started up the Music Scene column in the Tuam Herald, and as the few bob ‘started to be made’ the Morris Minor was bought and the regular weekend treks followed to carnivals and dancehalls around the county.

Around the mid-70s, Tom and five of his mates made the trip to Castleblayney to the Embassy Ballroom (since demolished and now the Glencarn Hotel) for a country music festival, featuring Big Tom of course – 40 years later the ‘same gang’ visited Big Tom at his Oram home in a sentimental re-enactment of more innocent times.

“As always we got a great welcome from Big Tom and his family. I went over the to piano and when Big Tom came into the room, he said to me that he could have given me a job years back.

“But it was always a lovely house to visit. He was a most decent man and he always made visitors feel most welcome – trips to Big Tom’s home in Oram were always very special,” Tom recalls.

Since Big Tom passed away last April and the book project was settled upon, Tom Gilmore had more trips to make up North, garnering anecdotes as well as bits and pieces of trivia from the singer’s family and friends, including Margo, ex-band members with the Mainliners band, his manager Kevin McCoey and Big Tom’s brother-in-law Paddy King.

“I suppose the first two to two-and-a-half months of the project were spent in gathering all the pieces of information that I needed to write the book. After that, it was a matter of deciding on the format and how the chapters would pan out, and then of course just keeping the head down and writing it,” said Tom Gilmore.

The end result is quite an exceptional product, beautifully produced and laid out by O’Brien Press, divided into 12 chapters dealing with Big Tom’s roots and early years; his Gaelic football career (he as an avid GAA man); emigration to London; family loves and tragedies; and of course his life and times as one of the country’s top entertainers.

At heart, Big Tom was a country boy who loved to sing, follow the GAA and drive his tractors, but primarily he was the man, who night after night, through late 1960s, ‘70s, ‘80s and 90s, drew thousands and thousands of people to halls and marquees in all corners of Ireland.

Songs like Gentle Mother, I Love You Still, Lonesome at Your Table, Broken Marriage Vows, Four Country Roads, My Donegal Shore and the Going Out The Same Way You Came In, are just some of the many songs that will resonate with people across the nation.

His passing led to President Michael D. Higgins making the journey to Oram for the wake where he met with the McBride family and paid a touching personal tribute to the influence of Big Tom, not just in Irish musical circles but on Irish society.

Johnny McCauley was the man who penned many of his greatest hits, and as Tom Gilmore points out, many people mightn’t realise that Big Tom was probably the first Irish artist – back in the early 1980s – to go to Nashville and record a full original album, written by Johnny McCauley and called Blue Wings

Another little titbit about Big Tom is that one of the singers and bands that he loved was Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones (who in their time, believe it or not, have done a selection of country songs). Rumour has it, according to Tom Gilmore, that Mick Jagger got an autograph from Big Tom many years ago when the pair met!

On a more serious note, Tom Gilmore, is happy that the Big Tom book is complete – it was officially launched last Saturday at the Íontas Theatre in Castleblayney – and he hopes that it will be a lasting tribute to a man whose name is known across every nook and cranny throughout Ireland.

“It was a labour of love and a great honour to write this book about a wonderful singer who touched the hearts of people all over Ireland for over half a century. I always regarded him as a great friend, and like so many more people around Ireland, I will miss him a lot,” said Tom Gilmore.

■ Big Tom The King of Irish Country, written by Tom Gilmore, is a hardback published by The O’Brien Press available at all good bookshops retailing at €20.

Connacht Tribune

Galway to complete vaccine roll-out by end of the summer

Denise McNamara

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Ninety-five year old Margaret Kenny was first person to be administered the Covid-19 vaccination Practice Nurse Deirdre Furey at the Surgery Athenry.

On the first anniversary of Covid-19’s deadly arrival into Ireland, the head of the Saolta hospital group has predicted that all who want the vaccine will have received it by the end of the summer.

Tony Canavan, CEO of the seven public hospitals, told the Connacht Tribune that the HSE was planning to set up satellite centres from the main vaccination hub at the Galway Racecourse to vaccinate people on the islands and in the most rural parts of the county.

While locations have not yet been signed up, the HSE was looking at larger buildings with good access that could be used temporarily to carry out the vaccination programme over a short period.

“We do want to reach out to rural parts of the region instead of drawing in people from the likes of Clifden and over from the islands. The plan is to set up satellites from the main centre, sending out small teams out to the likes of Connemara,” he explained.

“Ideally we’d run it as close as possible to the same time that the main centres are operating once that is set up. Communication is key – if people know we’re coming, it will put people’s minds at rest.”

Get all the latest Covid-19 coverage in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now – or download the digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie

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Connacht Tribune

Galway meteorologist enjoying new-found fame in the sun!

Denise McNamara

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Linda Hughes, presenting the RTÉ weather forecast live in studio.

Growing up in Galway where four seasons in a day is considered a soft one, Linda Hughes always had a keen interest in the weather.

But unlike most Irish people, instead of just obsessing about it, she actually went and pursued it as a career.

The latest meteorologist to appear on RTE’s weather forecasts hails from Porridgtown, Oughterard, and brings with her an impressive background in marine forecasting.

She spent six years in Aerospace and Marine International in Aberdeen, Scotland, which provides forecasts for the oil and gas industry.

The 33-year-old was a route analyst responsible for planning routes for global shipping companies. She joined the company after studying experimental physics in NUIG and doing a masters in applied meteorology in Redding in the UK.

“My job was to keep crews safe and not lose cargo by picking the best route to get them to their destination as quickly as possibly but avoiding hurricanes, severe storms,” she explains.

“It was a very interesting job, I really enjoyed it but it was very stressful as you were dealing with bad weather all the time because there’s always bad weather in some part of the world.”

Read the full interview with Linda Hughes in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now – or download the digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie

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Connacht Tribune

Great-great-grandmother home after Covid, a stroke, heart failure and brain surgery

Dave O'Connell

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Mary Quinn...back home after an incredible few months.

Her family are understandably calling her their miracle mum – because an 81 year old great-great-grandmother from Galway has bounced back from Covid-19, a stroke, heart failure and brain surgery since Christmas…to return hale and hearty, to her own home.

But Mary Quinn’s family will never forget the trauma of the last three months, as the Woodford woman fought back against all of the odds from a series of catastrophic set-backs.

The drama began when Mary was found with a bleed on her brain on December 16. She was admitted to Portiuncula Hospital, and transferred to Beaumont a day later where she underwent an emergency procedure – only to then suffer a stroke.

To compound the crisis, while in Beaumont, she contracted pneumonia, suffered heart failure and developed COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – the inflammatory lung disease that causes obstructed airflow from the lungs.

“Christmas without mom; things did not look good,” said her daughter Catherine Shiel.

But the worst was still to come – because before Mary was discharged, she contracted Covid-19.

Read Mary’s full, heart-warming story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now – or download the digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie

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