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
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
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
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
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
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
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.”