Taoiseach Leo Varadkar leads tributes to giant of country music who dies aged 81

Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has led tributes to a "giant" of country music who has died aged 81.

Big Tom McBride was a huge star in the 60s and 70s, filling ballrooms and becoming known as "The King" of Ireland's thriving scene.

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

Mr Varadkar said: "I was very saddened to hear of the death of Big Tom this morning.

"Big Tom was certainly a giant in Irish country music for over 50 years."

With his band the Mainliners, he filled dance halls the length and breadth of the country.

The Taoiseach added: "His songs were a reflection of Irish life and an important connection for the Irish diaspora.

Not many people are known by their first name, but that was Big Tom.

"It shows his popularity and legendary status as the king of Irish country music."

Big Tom was from Castleblayney in Co Monaghan.

Co Donegal singer Daniel O'Donnell said the world of country music was a "richer place" because of his music.

He told Irish broadcaster RTE: "It is just so sad. I am sure his family are devastated at his passing."

He was the lead singer of Irish showband Big Tom And The Mainliners, who were formed in the 1960s and achieved widespread success.

Fellow country singer Lisa McHugh tweeted: "Shocked and truly saddened to hear of the passing of Big Tom this morning.

"Ireland's King of Country Music for so many years and his legacy will live on for many years to come.

"My sincere condolences go out to all of his family and friends at this terrible time."

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