Tributes have poured in following the passing of much-loved country legend Big Tom McBride, with fellow singer Daniel O'Donnell describing McBride as "The King" of Irish country music.

The Four Country Roads star's family announced that he had passed away on Tuesday morning.

Tributes have since flooded in from fans and friends who said they were "so sorry" to hear of his passing.

President Michael D Higgins described Big Tom as "one of the most charismatic and influential artists in Irish country music".

In a statement, President Higgins said that Big Tom will leave a lasting legacy and passed on his deepest sympathies to his family, friends and fans.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he "was very saddened to hear of the death of Big Tom".

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

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

Speaking on Today with Seán O'Rourke on RTÉ Radio 1, Irish country singer Susan McCann said it was "a sad day for the country music business".

"I started off in 1976 and it was Big Tom really that contributed to my success because my first No. 1 single was called Big Tom is Still the King," she recalled.

"So, all Big Tom fans bought the single and it went to No.1.

"It's a sad day. He was just such a lovely man and always had a nice word for you. He seemed to capture the heart of everybody he ever spoke to. He was just a gentleman. We are all extremely sad today," McCann added.

Fr Brian D'Arcy said his friend of 50 years had "invented the term 'Country and Irish music'". 

"He was a lovely, gentle man," he told O'Rourke.

"He was the one that everybody looked up to. He was the one that probably the elitists sort of looked down their noses at, and Big Tom outlasted them all." 

"At his last gig he was able to bring a thousand people into his show," Fr D'Arcy continued. "Who still adored the ground he walked on. Who still loved him as a friend and as a singer. Who still appreciated what he had done for them. Who still made their hearts want to dance every time he opened his mouth and sang. Tom was one of them, but he was their king as well."

Saxophonist Paddy Cole, who had been friends with Big Tom since childhood and inducted him into the Irish Country Music Hall of Fame in 2016, said the late singer was "a man of the people".

"He was an ordinary, big fella and he had a great sense of humour," Cole told Seán O'Rourke.

"He changed the whole scene in the country scene in Ireland."

Daniel O'Donnell told The Ryan Tubridy Show on RTÉ Radio 1 how Big Tom "reached out to people in Ireland and those people who had emigrated from Ireland".

Showband legend Red Hurley joined Today with Maura and Dáithí to pay tribute to the late star, saying, "I felt an awful sadness over me, the trees were going by on the train and it was rainy and windy and stormy outside and I just thought it's a very sad day for Irish music." 

Hurley also reminisced about a time he, Big Tom and Joe Dolan took part in a spontaneous singalong in London.

Singer Philomena Begley said she was shocked to hear of Big Tom's passing, describing him as someone who would "light up a room". 

Fellow artist Declan Nerney said it was "a sad day for the music industry".

"Big Tom was the gentle giant of country music and an icon who had a huge effect on the people of Ireland." 

Pop country singer Lisa McHugh said she was "shocked and truly saddened" to hear of Big Tom's passing.

The Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan, said: "Big Tom made a huge contribution to Irish country music during his career spanning five decades."

"He and his band The Mainliners were a fixture of dancehalls and ballrooms in the 60s and 70s, earning him the title of 'The King' of Irish country music," the Minister continued.

"His songs not only connected with people in Ireland but also with Irish people abroad, bringing joy to the many Irish Diaspora across the globe."

"Ní bheidh a leithéid arís ann."

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said he was "very sad" upon hearing the news and said the late singer "charmed and entertained so many over the years".

Journalist and Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times, Michael O'Regan, said: "Big Tom McBride was more than a popular country singer."

Broadcaster Lynette Fay said she was "so sorry" to hear "Ireland's King of Country" had passed away.


In Pictures: Big Tom McBride 1936 - 2018.