By Hugh Dougherty
Country and western singer, ‘Big Tom’, who made the Irish hit, The GNR Steam Train famous with his aptly-named Mainliners showband, has died aged 81.
Tom McBride who wrote and performed several songs about Irish railways was born beside the Great Northern Railway of Ireland’s Dundalk-Enniskillen line at Castleblaney in 1936 and had relatives who worked on the railway.
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He wrote the The GNR Steam Train as a tribute to the railway after the line lost its passenger trains in 1957, being finally closed to goods between Dundalk and Clones in 1958.
Big Tom, who was known for his love of the GNR (I) and sadness at the closures, tells in the song of seeing his first steam train at Castleblaney station as a boy, before it set off to Enniskillen and on to Donegal.
The song also recalls the Bundoran Express, taking pilgrims to Lough Derg, and special trains transporting crowds of Gaelic football fans to big games at Clones, while it also features the railway taking emigrants away to find work.
The song ends by recalling the closure of the railway, which, say the lyrics, caused many grown men to shed tears ‘which fell like rain.’
The song was always a favourite number performed by Big Tom in halls across Ireland and in Irish clubs in Britain, before he gave up touring in 2017, and it helped keep the memory of the GNR (I) alive.
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