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TCM Archives > Western People > 2004/04/11 > Big Tom

Wednesday, November 24, 2004 :


Big Tom’s huge reception in London and Birmingham
By: Michael Commins

It was a throw back to the golden years of the showband era. A swaying crowd in the Galtymore as the famous Cricklewood echoed once more to the sounds of one of the most famous bands that ever played the venue … Big Tom and the Mainliners. The Monaghan combination were back in town and it was celebration time for the Irish exiles.
This was a night to cherish and the followers came from many parts of England. Quite a number made the journey across from Ireland especially for the big show in the Galtymore which saw the curtains come down on Big Tom’s comeback tour of 2004.
On a night when even the walls were sweating, happy faces reflected the happiness of a people who came to give thanks and pay homage to a man who has touched the lives of so many since back in the mid-1960s.
How can you fathom such unswerving loyalty over four decades? It has to go beyond the ordinary bounds of “followers”. Big Tom has managed to maintain an extraordinary bond with his friends that goes right to the heart. I would challenge anyone in the country, and especially those who don’t like his music, to spend a half an hour in the company of Big Tom and to come away not liking the man. In the virtues of tolerance and patience, he has hardly any equals.
The mother of Caroline Commins (no relation), a young girl in her 20s reflected in the Galtymore on how Caroline had written to Big Tom on the occasion of her dad’s 50th birthday to ask him to send a special card to her dad as it would mean so much to him. In her letter to Big Tom, she wrote “I grew up thinking you were God in our house”. (Caroline’s parents John and Philomena are from Castlehill and Crossmolina).
On reflection, these sentiments get pretty close to the essence of what Big Tom means to thousands and thousands of people. He is like one of the family.
The round-up night in the Galtymore brought Big Tom and the Mainliners back to the scene of some of their greatest nights. No-one was bigger over aa long a period of time than the Castleblayney band. The man who had headlined the London-Irish Festival in front of a crowd of 80,000 in Willsden in the mid-1980s was taking many of the dancers on a trip down memory lane.

Back to Birmingham

The three night tour had started in Manchester on the Thursday night with a ‘full house’ in the St Kentican’s Club. I joined them on Friday night for their show in the Irish Club in Birmingham where the biggest crowd in quite some time had turned up to welcome them to the heart of the Midlands.
Regulars reflected that many were present whom they had not seen for some years in the club … probably not since Tom’s last visit to the venue!
This was my first trip to Birmingham for a few years. I recall a memorable visit to cover the Mayo Association dinner with Brose Walsh and the band in the mid-1990s. We stayed in Eileen Fanning’s guesthouse on that occasion. She was formerly Prendergast from Rosewood, Ballyglass, Claremorris.
I also recall the great welcome Tommy Hyland from Kiltimagh (a brother of Nellie McNamara, in Derryclagh) had for us that night. Sadly, Tommy died last year.
And I had a special thought for Tom and Bridie Carey as I came in from the airport. Bridie (formerly Reaney from Murneen, Claremorris) died earlier this year. Tommy called us just two weeks ago … but my trip to Birmingham was very short on this occasion and I didn’t get the chance to return the visit.
Also memories of meeting Fr Joe Taaffe, the legendary Knock priest whose funeral brought parts of the city to a stand-still some years ago, sprung to mind.
Providing the music prior to Big Tom going on stage in the Irish Club were Mayo man Tom Forde and Irene from Tyrone who have their own group in the English Midlands. Tom is a native of Newbrook, Claremorris, and was a former member of the Stampede group which was popular on the regional circuit in the West during the early 1980s.
Tom sends his best wishes to all the Forde family and neighbours back home and to the three Franks, his colleagues from his days in Stampede.
Tom and Irene undertake a lot of local work in the Birmingham region and also feature on the overseas tours organised by another Mayo native Gerry Flynn who runs a popular Travel Company over in England.
A well known name from the music scene who rambled along to share in the celebrations was Seamus Moore. We had met Seamus a bit earlier over in the nearby Bull’s Head tavern where some of the folks were dining. Seamus will be heading over for some dates around Christmas and he says hello to all his friends over in this part of the country.
I met up with Tom Kelly from Lissaniskea, Bekan, who came over to Birmingham in 1966. Tom sends greetings to his brother Noel Kelly in Lissaniskea and his sister Ann Marie in Ballyhowley, Knock, and to all his family relations and friends including Michael and Nancy Morley and Monica and all the rest of the Morley family, and he had a special hello for his former neighbours Pake and Kit Byrne.
We had a great chat with Anastasia Doocey and her friend Kelly Walsh. With them were Anastasia’s mother Marie Doocey and her aunt. Anastasia and Kelly are among Big Tom’s most loyal young fans in England and have journeyed to Ireland to see his shows on a number of occasions.
Anastasia sends good wishes to Mary and Patrick Doocey in Pullathomas and to her aunt Sheila Garrett in Crossmolina and to all the relations and friends in Mayo. She recently commenced nursing in Birmingham and loves her new career.
Greetings also to James and Margaret Monaghan of Foxpoint, Barnatra, Belmullet, while Marie Doocey would like to send greetings to Mary Walsh in Moylough and to her brother John Connolly and his wife Bridgie in Mountbellew. The Doocey family are faithful listeners to Mid-West Radio on the internet.
Nice to meet Gerry and Noreen Stenson say hello to all back home around Tooreen (a special hello to Willie!). They have been long-time friends of Big Tom and the band and have danced to them on many occasions since they settled in England several years ago.
Martin and Bridie Corcoran are regular “Western” readers for many years over in Birmingham. They were sharing this special night of nostalgia with many friends from the Irish scene in Birmingham. They hail from Doohoma and Doolough respectively and send good wishes to all their friends back home in Erris with a special mention for Pauline and George Sweeney and family in Bangor. Mary Ronayne hails from Shanballymore, Garrafrauns, and we met Mary and her sister Carmel and Brian McTeague. They say hello to their sister Angela and her husband John Keaveney, in Garrafrauns, and also to Geraldine and Paddy Jennings, in Mount Delvin, Cloonfad, and Michael and Susanne Ronayne, Shanballymore.
Patrick and Paula Fitzmaurice dropped by to say hello. Patrick told me he had been over in Birmingham for over 30 years … but he’s certainly not showing a day of it! A native of Killasser, he conveys his good wishes to his parents Hugh and Beatrice Fitzmaurice and all the family back home in Killasser.
Sligo native Frank Feeney has spent many years in Birmingham and he says hello to family relations and friends around Grange. And speaking of that area, John Mulrooney (Dublin and Grange) and Catherine, who attended every one of Bg Tom’s ‘04 tour dates in Ireland, journeyed over for the three shows … as did Patsy and Susan McGuinness from Dundalk, long-time friends of The Mainliners.
We met Peter and Mary Wall who were busy chatting with many friends. Peter, who hails from Co. Sligo, is a well known entertainer in the area and has released his own CDs and video in recent years. Mary was formerly McConvillle from Dunmore and they tell me that they intend to re-locate to Dunmore within a year.
A mention also for Gerry McHugh from Ballycroy, who is well known in the construction business in the Birmingham region, and Willie Coyne from the Belmullet area who were also among the capacity attendance.
Pat Coleman, who hails from Ballygar, Co. Galway, has been in Birmingham for many years and is associated with the running of the Irish Club. We met him shortly after arriving at the club. Also there was Mick Allen from Cloneygowan, Co. Offaly, another long time resident of Birmingham who told me that his brother, Con Allen, moved to the Claremorris area in the last year or so.
Long Paddy McKnight and Long John McKnight are Armagh men and they seem to be known far and wide among the Irish community in Birmingham. They also have many Mayo friends and send good wishes to all from the western counties. Paddy told me he has been known as “Long Paddy” since he arrived here … and it’s easy to see why. He towered above everyone on the dance floor!
Earlier on Friday evening, I met up with Seamus Culliney from Bekan and Gerry Coyne from Tooreen as we got off the plane … and they rambled along to the Irish Club to sample the atmosphere of this occasion.
Big Tom waited to meet everyone in the big queue after the dance. Photos were taken that will find cherished places in family albums, just as they have done for close on 40 years.
It was nicely after 4 am when we all headed back to Elmdon Lodge in Acocks Green, a delightful place run for many years by Mell and Mary Farrell who came to London in the 1960s. Mell is from Rooskey, Roscommon, and Mary hails from Cavan. The next morning they were flying out from Birmingham to attend a funeral of a long-time friend in Swinford and Aghamore.
Special greetings to Denis and Mary Slyne from Knocknacarra, Galway with whom we had a long chat en-route from Knock to Birmingham on Friday evening. They are both natives of Co. Cork but have resided in Galway for some years now. And hello also to Martin John Healy, Damien Scott and Anthony Walsh, all from the Killala area who were over for the big motorbike show in Birmingham.

The king is back!

Saturday saw us heading down the M1 to London with Dermot McBride behind the wheel. Rose McBride had flown over to London the previous evening and was there to greet Tom and us all when we arrived at the Galtymore around 3.30 pm. It was a beautiful crisp evening in London and there was ample time to stroll around parts of Cricklewood before the show that night.
In Sheila’s Café, where the walls are adorned with images of Ireland, we met Bernadette O’Sullivan, formerly Murray, from near Bushfield, Charlestown. She was thrilled to meet Big Tom and Rose and reminisced about some of the great nights in the ‘Galty’ down through the years. Bernadette sends good wishes to her sisters Mary and Kathleen and Eileen and a special wish to Mary “Get well soon”.
As we walked the short distance to the “Galty”, we brought to his attention the billboard on the side of the Galtymore which proclaimed “The King Is Back”. “Ah for f***’* sake!”, commented Tom with the modesty of the most down-to-earth entertainer of all.
From 8 pm onwards, they began to queue and it was clear that this was going to be a very special night in the Galtymore. By the time the resident Galty Trio ended their stint, the place was ‘heaving’ and the atmosphere reached a crescendo when Big Tom walked on stage.
Frank Murphy and his sons Gregory and Fabian, from Emyvale, in Monaghan, were over for the tour and they recorded all three nights in Manchester, Birmingham and London for a new video which is due for release in Spring. They worked hard over the weekend and filmed some great material from which to edit the forthcoming video.
It was lovely to meet up with John and Mary Prendergast, a Mayo couple who have resided for several years in England. John hails from Woodstock, Ballindine and Mary was nee Loftus from Swinford. A mention also for their family, Helen, Joan, John and Paul. They are regular listeners to Mid-West Radio via the internet, a fact that was brought up with several people we met during our short trips to Birmingham and London.
Beatrice O’Sullivan has been a supporter of Big Tom’s since the first time she ever danced to the band. Formerly Rowland from Ballycroy, Beatrice and her friends were thrilled to see Big Tom in London again and enjoyed a long chat with him after the show. She sends her regards to Mary Higgins in Rathnagussane, Kilmovee and to all her friends back home.
I was especially delighted to meet Jack Flannery from Bushfield, Hollymount. Jack is a true blue with it comes to lending support to the Irish bands who visit England. He told me he had not seen a night like this in the Galtymore for many a year. Jack has been in London since the 1960s and has witnessed many big changes over the decades. He is a very regular visitor to the Hollymount and Roundfort areas and he sends greetings to his mother May Flannery and to his brothers and sisters and their families around the county and further afield. See you in Claremorris during the Christmas, Jack!
One of the new arrivals in London is Elaine McDonnell from Glenamoy who came over in the past three months or so. We met Elaine after the show and her uncle Paddy McDonnell was nearby, no doubt introducing Elaine to the scene in the Galtymore. She sends her best wishes to Helen and John McDonnell back home and to Eva Healy in Glenamoy. We wish Elaine all the best in London.
Without doubt, if all the people attending the shows in London, Birmingham and Manchester were asked to declare their county of birth, Mayo would have come out tops everywhere. You have to visit these places to realise the great bonds that have been established over the years and the incredible outreach of the sons and daughters of Mayo.

* More dedications from the big night in the Galtymore will be featured in next week’s diary page.

Paddy O’Brien returns to Digger Jays
The long journey west lies ahead for Paddy O’Brien and his band this Friday night when they are the featured entertainers for the country show in Digger Jays of Ayle. Paddy is from Aglish in Co. Waterford and has long been a top draw in the southern part of the country.
The genial singer from beside the Blackwater Valley has his own loyal followers in many parts of this country. And he always delivered an engaging and enjoyable show.
Paddy has recorded a string of top class country albums since the mid-1980s and recent weeks saw the release of his latest one entitled “My Destiny” which contains 16 fine songs including a duet with Joanne Cash (sister of Johnny Cash) on Will The Circle Be Unbroken.
The album contains a nice selection of old favourites and lesser known songs ranging from Blue Moon of Kentucky, Uncle Pen, and My Blue Tears, to Stormy Horizons, Long Black Limousine, and A Place to Fall Apart, a relatively unknown Merle Haggard song which was also recorded in recent times by bluegrass singer Ginny Hawker.
We hope Paddy receives the support he deserves this Friday night … it would be a fitting ‘thank you’ for the long journey to entertain the patrons.

Roger Whittaker tour re-scheduled for New Year
The Roger Whittaker tour had to be cancelled at the last minute when the popular entertainer was detained in a Dublin hospital for emergency artery surgery in recent days. He was all set to commence his major first Irish tour, which included a date in the T.F. Royal Theatre in Castlebar last Sunday night week, when medical opinion dictated that he attend immediately to his health problem.
Tour promoter Tom Kelly from Ballina said no one was more disappointed than Roger himself. “He’s a real professional and he knew that the concert tour was selling very well. But he couldn’t take the risk against the top medical advice which urged him to deal immediately with the problem. In fact, after his examination, they decided not to let him home at all and to do the necessary surgery within hours.
“We have the entire tour re-scheduled for January and February and we intend to host the Castlebar concert on Sunday night, 13th February. Roger has a great affinity with the Irish people since settling down in Banagher three years ago. He’s very much looking forward to getting back on stage in the New Year.”



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In Loving Memory of Grant Gallagher: Sept. 21, 1990 - Nov. 18, 2006