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Tom Sweeney is a genuine ‘rarity’ in the field of Irish singing.

His audiences range from four and five year-olds right up to the thousands who regularly attend his performances on the stages of the U.S. and Canada’s premier Irish music festivals.

Along with brother Jimmy, the late Donegal fiddle player, P.V.O’Donnell and fellow Omagh man, Brian Doherty, known collectively as Barley Bree, Tom spent nearly twenty years in Nova Scotia, Canada plying his musical trade.

“We were very fortunate in Canada, because we were initially offered a sixteen part weekly television series called the ‘Barley Bree Show’ with CTV, which became a thirty two part series the following year. It gave us great profile and a launch pad from which to set out touring. We toured the US and Canada extensively for the next ten years and that really stood to me when I went out on my own. Promoters knew who I was and were willing to give me a chance as a solo performer. I’m in their debt that it paid off.”

The Tyrone balladeer, songwriter and storyteller remains a firm favorite at most of the summer Irish music festivals across North America and has done so for over thirty five years. He is seen as a high profile performer at the huge Milwaukee Irish Fest for the past twenty five years. Tom wrote and recorded the theme song for the festival’s twenty-fifth anniversary.

Throughout the year Sweeney brings his performances of children’s songs and stories to primary and elementary schools across Ireland. His twelve children’s CDs and book of Irish children’s songs called “The Ninepenny Fiddle” are eagerly sought out and used by educators and parents everywhere.

Tom is considered by some to be one of the last of the ‘true’ ballad singers because many of his songs have been handed down through a line of family singers. These include his mother, Mona, his uncle Tommy Makem and his maternal grandmother Sarah Makem, known as one of the world’s great ‘source’ singers and even further back to his great grandmother.

Many of the songs in Tom’s repertoire are steeped in the old Irish ballad tradition and deal with history, emigration, love songs, songs of working people, humorous pieces and poems. It has been remarked upon often that his spoken introductions are one of the highlights of his performance.

As well as being looked upon as something of an ‘authority’ on ballads and their origins, Tom Sweeney is acutely aware of the ever-changing face of modern Ireland. The songs and poems he writes reflect the constant link between contemporary and historical Ireland. He was honoured to have been invited to the White House by President Clinton on St. Patrick’s night in 1998 to perform his song, “Anthem For The Children”, a quiet plea for peace and prosperity for all Irish children. Written at the height of the Northern ‘troubles,’ his performance for the President coincided with the signing of the historical Good Friday Agreement in Belfast.Tom Sweeney at the Whitehouse

To celebrate the anniversary of the ‘Flight of the Earls’ in 2007, Tom wrote a cycle of ten songs dealing with that momentous event in 1607. They were performed at the Strule Arts Centre in Omagh, Tom’s hometown and seat of the legendary Tyrone chieftain, The Great O’ Neill.

In 2008 he supplied the lyrics and music to his Community Theatre’s production of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” which also ran at the Strule Arts Centre. The show utilized all of his twelve original songs.

“On each of my folk albums I have always put in one or two of my own songs, but now I am recording an album of all my own material”, says Tom, “we’ll put it out and see what happens! Other artists have done covers of my songs, including Liam Clancy, Doherty and Evans, the Belfast singer, Marie Mc Vicker and the Makem & Spain Brothers on their new album”.

On the children’s side of things Tom has been very busy in the studio.

“I’ve written and recorded a new album of anti-bullying songs for schools called, ‘No Bullying Here’, which consists of eight songs and two poems, addressing a major issue in our schools. I’ve also recorded a double CD called ‘Aesop’s Fables for Children’ in which there are timely and succinct lessons in life for our children. Then there is a new recording of the legends and songs associated with St. Patrick."

August 2016 sees the release of my 21st cd, my first studio folk album for some time! It is called 'The Further I Travel' and features a mixture of original songs and some of my favourite ballads. I will have it for sale at dates across the US & Canada later in the year. It will also be available for download on I Tunes.

As well as touring at home and abroad, Tom is always delighted to perform on the cruise ships on the Caribbean and the Mediterranean.

“I’ve been very lucky to have enjoyed the splendor and opulence of sailing the tranquil waters with my musical friends and fellow performers over the years, firstly with Mary Rowley at Irish Festival Cruises and then with Debra Casey at Irish Music Cruises and Danny O'Flaherty's at”.

I am very excited about my next land tour of Ireland from May 12th- 21st 2017. It is called Tom Sweeney's 'Songs And Stories Of Ireland' musical tour, with my colleagues Peter Clarke and Nuala Saul of Brack Tours You can find the details in the news section or email me directly and I will forward you all the details. It will be a great  one! My musical tours of Ireland have proven to be very popular and I'm delighted to be able to invite you on my 'Songs And Stories' tour from May 12th - 21st, 2017.

“I’m a great believer in the song itself. The lyrics and melody are everything and nothing can replace that”, says Tom. “The gift of telling a story, whether through a song or verbally, is an ancient art that I’m very happy to aspire to – it is timeless and often profound.”

Last Updated on Friday, 27 May 2016 11:58

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