Homily delivered by Fr Leo Creelman, CC, Castleblayney, at the Funeral Mass for the late Big Tom McBride at St Patrick’s Church, Oram, Castleblayney (Parish of Muckno) on Friday 20 April 2018. Based on Gospel of John 14:1-6.
‘Tom McBride was chosen by God and gifted with many talents and abilities. These he shared generously with many people including those who have travelled here to be with his family today. We thank God for knowing Tom McBride in whatever capacity that may be; family, friend or neighbour. Or in his professional career, for those who have sung with him, played alongside him, admired him and listened to his music.’
My Dear People, Today we gather in this quaint little church of St Patrick’s in Oram, on another difficult and sad day for a local family, on a difficult and sad day for this parish, for the local community, for the world of country music and for many, many people throughout our country and beyond. We come here together in such large numbers to show our support and sympathy to the family of Tom McBride, on the loss of a loving father, grandfather, uncle, brother, neighbour and friend.
Today is a heart-breaking replay of events for the McBride family since just less than 80 days ago, we were here in this same church for the funeral of Tom’s devoted and beloved wife Rose. To lose one parent is heart breaking, but Thomas, Dermot, Aishling and Siobhan, to lose both parents within a matter of months, we just can’t begin to imagine the sense of grief, sadness or emptiness that you must feel at this time.
In such circumstances we can question God. Our faith can be put to the test. We can ask if there is something beyond this earthly life at all. Is there a place after death where we will be united again with our loved ones? We can question, but one thing we can be certain of, for each and every one here; death comes to us all, at a time and on a date known only to God.
In the Gospel I have just read, Jesus was speaking to His disciples at the Last Supper. Although they were unaware of His impending death, Jesus knew that He was about to leave them. He knew that He had to leave them, He had to die, so that He could rise from the dead and so give all who trust in Him the promise of life eternal.
His words to the disciples are spoken today to those who grieve, to give hope that if we trust Him and follow Him in this life then He will come back and bring us, His disciples to that promised place. Jesus said:
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God still, and trust in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s house; if there were not, I should have told you. I am going now to prepare a place for you, and after I have gone and prepared you a place, I shall return and take you with me; so that where I am you may be too.
I am hoping that these words will be a comfort to his family. Tom heard these very words of Jesus when the same Gospel was read at Rose’s funeral. And these same words could very well be put on the lips of Rose after her own death, as she called Tom back home to God.
‘I am going now to prepare a place for you, and after I have gone and prepared you a place, I shall return and take you with me;so that where I am you may be too.’
When Rose died a massive part of Tom went with her. He was lost, dazed and broken hearted. Big Tom was the face and voice that everyone seen and heard, but Rose was the engine behind his success. In the background, she was the grounding mechanism, the compass and the refuge needed, to one of the most popular Irish country singing stars of our times.
Tom and Rose were a partnership that worked; an example of where each spouse cared for the other more than for themselves. They bear witness and testimony to a selfless love and bond that is possible within marriage, like a match made in heaven. A glimmer of comfort is perhaps God was merciful in allowing Tom to be united so quickly again with his beloved Rose.
At this requiem Mass we gather around the Eucharistic table, to give thanks to God for the life of Tom McBride, grateful for what he did for so many people in different ways, his actions and kind gestures, some small others big, and quite a few known only to those who benefited from his generous spirit and friendship.
Big Tom had an amazing presence when he walked into a room or onto a stage. He was a man big in stature, matched up with an even bigger heart. Despite all his success and fame, he always remained humble and down to earth and first and foremost a family man.
I could dwell on his professional career, on his undoubted success and popularity in the Irish country music scene. He was referred to as a legend, a giant, an icon, a king, labels often liberally thrown out about others, but titles that Big Tom richly deserved and earned after decades of success in the country music scene, culminating with a lifetime achievement award at the Irish Country Music Awards in 2016.
In the wake of his death many television programmes and papers will rightly concentrate on Big Tom the country star. But today, in this place he called home, we focus on Tom the family man, the ordinary man, a man very much down to earth. And it was the earth of this place Oram, County Monaghan that kept Tom McBride grounded. He loved this place. He loved his home; he loved his family; he loved the land. Locals here would often see Tom travelling round the little roads on his quad. Not only see him but hear him too, as that noisy exhaust never seemed to get fixed.
But that was where Tom seemed to be the happiest, out and about, whether counting rabbits in the field or cutting ivy away from choking a tree. He loved the land, out on the old tractor ploughing or spraying the spuds, other times he was in the garden with the vegetables and flowers. Sometimes the outside came in, along with the associated smells, as he would lovingly incubate chick eggs in the good front room of the house, something that drove Rose mad.
Tom had a healthy interest in vintage tractors and all things old. He would never throw anything out. He had great patience and determination to master anything he put his hand to. He was a golfer with a handicap at one time as low as 9. He was a footballer both as a county player and for Oram. He captained the Oram junior team in 1963 to a winning double.
He would water ski and was the first to have a speed boat in Lough Muckno, falling off many times, quickly getting to know every stone in the water. At other times he enjoyed the peace and tranquillity of the same lake when he would fly fish, even tying his own flies. He played snooker and was an avid reader, watched wildlife programmes and John Wayne westerns. All very simple and ordinary things. Most of all Tom was a family man, a much-loved husband, father, grandfather and uncle, the family were all very proud of.
Tom and Rose married 52 years ago and eventually moved back to Rose’s home house to look after her parents. There Tom and Rose would spend the rest of their married life together. Their home was always open and welcoming, a home where they raised their family. The kids were always used to a house full of people, a place where the kettle was never off, a stop off for many friends and neighbours just passing by.
Tom had a great sense of humour and was very quick witted, delivered usually in his own inimitable way. The family told me of one instance when Rose was getting dressed up in her finest, a dress rehearsal for an upcoming wedding. As she appeared in the kitchen and asked for an opinion, resplendent in a beautiful hat, feathers and all, Tom as quick as lighting pipes up, “It’s a terror what you see when you haven’t got your gun.’
Stories like these will hopefully help the family to look back and to give thanks for Tom the family man, the ordinary man. Laughter and reminiscing can help balance out the sadness and tears. Faith and trust in a loving and merciful God can bring us hope that our loved ones are in a better place.
The readings picked by his family for this funeral Mass, reflect their hope and faith that Tom is now at peace with God. In the first reading from the Book of Wisdom we hear
…they who trust in him will understand the truth, those who are faithful will live with him in love; for grace and mercy awaits those he has chosen.
Tom McBride was chosen by God and gifted with many talents and abilities. These he shared generously with many people including those who have travelled here to be with his family today. We thank God for knowing Tom McBride in whatever capacity that may be; family, friend or neighbour. Or in his professional career, for those who have sung with him, played alongside him, admired him and listened to his music.
This earthly world and our lives have been a richer and happier place because of him. His passing will leave a void both for his family and friends and for the Irish country music scene. Our prayer is that Big Tom McBride will be carried now by the angels to the heavenly choir.
May he be forgiven for any failings in this life and may he find a place prepared for him along with his beloved wife Rose. May he be at rest and at home with all the faithful departed and our Lord Jesus in His Father’s house.