The President of Ireland Michael D Higgins hosted a special concert of country music at Áras an Uachtaráin and suggested it is often not as appreciated as it deserves.
President Higgins also paid a moving tribute to Big Tom, who died last year, and wished a speedy recovery to Queen of Irish Country Philomena Begley.
Among those taking part were songwriter and performer Robert Mizzell, Louise Morrissey, Jimmy Buckley and Margo O’Donnell.
Other performers included songwriter Pete St. John, who wrote The Fields of Athenry and Dublin In The Rare Oul’ Times, Michael English, and Mike Denver. The Master of Ceremonies was RTÉ’s Shay Byrne.
The President said he, and his wife Sabina, had wanted to celebrate the many different groups, organisations and individuals “who contribute so much to community life around the country and particularly through Irish country music”.
Mr Higgins said that Ireland’s country music industry employs approximately a thousand people “making it a significant contributor to Ireland’s economic well-being”.
“From Kilburn to Boston, from Merseyside to New Jersey, the Irish have gathered in community centres and dancehalls to reconnect with their culture and heritage and keep alive their memory of home,” he said.
The President went to give a moving tribute to one of the giants of Irish Country Music, Big Tom McBride, who died last year and members of whose family were special guests at Áras an Uachtaráin for the concert.
“Tom’s contribution to country music was immense. His performances embodied all that is best about the genre, and the love of place and people, of heart and home that defines it and was so greatly evident in songs such as Gentle Mother and God Must be a Cowboy, or his moving rendering of Johnny McCauley’s Back to Castleblayney,” he said.
“Tom embodied the generous reach of Irish country music, its great ability to call out to Irish people across the world and recall to them the spirit of the place they will always remember as home.”
He also said “how sorry I am that Philomena Begley is unable to join us tonight due to her recent serious illness.
“Philomena’s contribution to Irish country music has also been a profound one. If Big Tom was its King, Philomena is its Queen, her name always associated with iconic songs such as ‘Blanket on the Ground’. I wish Philomena a speedy recovery.”
Higgins added that this music helped articulate “both our Irishness and our global citizenship”.
“For many second generation Irish, it is our music, our dance and our song that speaks to them of their inner Irishness and that creates such a profound link between them and the land of their forefathers.”