Tommy McGoldrick obituary

Other lives: Player of Irish and country music who won the all-Ireland Fiddle Championship and passed his skills on to generations of others

My cousin, Tommy McGoldrick, who has died aged 88, was a much-loved Irish musician and artist. Tommy played country as well as traditional Irish music, and performed in the Irish pubs of Kilburn in London as well as at home in Ireland.

He won several competitions, including the prestigious All-Ireland Fiddle Championship in the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann. His recordings included his arrangement of The Coolin (An Chúileann), the beautiful, ancient slow air he played when he won the championship in 1981. As a teacher he passed on his skills to several generations of musicians and artists.

Born in the parish of Rasharkin, Co Antrim, Tommy was the third of four children born to Lizzie (nee McCluskey), and her husband, Thomas McGoldrick, a bus driver who also carved and sold blackthorn sticks. The family lived in Rosnashane, two and a half miles from Rasharkin, and Tommy would walk four miles each day to and from school, where he showed an early aptitude for drawing and music.

After he left school at 14 he worked as a labourer and cobbler while developing his gifts – he had first been taught the fiddle by his father, and later received lessons in traditional music from Hughie Surgenor in Cullybackey and classical tuition from a teacher in Ballymoney. As an artist, he was self-taught.

Tommy met Mary O’Kane, a farmer’s daughter, at a dance, and they married in 1968. Mary encouraged Tommy to pursue his passions and he was eventually able to make a living as an artist and musician. He sold his first painting to a gallery in Coleraine and he and Mary would regularly drive across Ireland with canvases destined for galleries and art shops.

He was known as a “people’s artist” and his oil and watercolour paintings of the rural Ireland of his youth – thatched cottages, music sessions round the peat fire, village street scenes – and the mountains, glens and coastlines of Antrim, Donegal and the west of Ireland were bought by institutions including the Bank of Ireland and Aer Lingus, as well as by Mick Jagger (who purchased four of Tommy’s Connemara landscapes in 1994), the singer Daniel O’Donnell and private collectors in Canada, the Middle East, the US and Europe.

One of Tommy’s proudest moments was when he played the fiddle for Seamus Heaney and his family in 2003. Tommy, a lover of poetry, persuaded Heaney to sign his fiddle and Heaney inscribed in ink on the violin the final couplet from his poem The Given Note, about a Blasket Island fiddler who summons the mysterious Port na bPúcaí (the Fairies’ Tune): “It comes off the bow gravely,/ Rephrases itself into the air.” Not many musicians would invite such desecration of their instrument. Tommy cherished this souvenir of his encounter with a great poet and fellow Northern Irishman.

At the requiem mass for Tommy at St Mary’s Church, Rasharkin, the fiddle player Kieran Convery, who was taught by Tommy and went on to win the All-Ireland Fiddle Championship, played The Coolin.

Tommy is survived by Mary and by his younger sister, also called Mary. His sisters Lizzie and Annalena predeceased him.

Annalena McAfee

The GuardianTramp

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