Thom Moore leaves the stage on St Patrick’s Day

By Noel Coogan

An outstanding contributor to Irish folk music was lost on St. Patrick’s Day, 2018 with the passing, following a long illness, of Thom Moore. 

Although an American-native, the popular singer lived in Sligo for a number of years.

On moving to Ireland in 1971, Thom settled with his wife outside Sligo town and formed the group Pumpkinhead, which specialised in folk rock music.

Moore was born on an island off California on December 6, 1943 before growing up in Ethiopia and Lebanon, his mother having persuaded her husband to take up employment in east Africa and the Middle East.

On growing up, Thom served in the US Navy before working as a journalist for three years while serving with the US Navy in Hawaii. Then he attended university in California where he studied Slavic languages and gained a degree. 

After seeing the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem on television in America, Moore decided to move to Ireland with his wife and small daughter and settled close to Sligo town. He soon founded Pumpkinhead with wife Cathy and fellow Americans, Rick and Sandi Epping.

Thom Moore proved himself a significant addition to the Irish folk music scene and Mary Black described him as “a truly gifted songwriter with a beautiful voice.”

After the Pumpkinhead group broke up in 1976, he formed Midnight Well with Janie Cribbs, Máirtín O’Connor and Gerri O’Beirne. Moore continued to write and sing delightful songs, spiced with very clever lyrics, which many other artistes also performed and recorded.

Among the popular songs written and sung by Thom Moore were Cavan Girl, Gorgeous and Bright, The Navigator, Carolina Rua, Still Believing and Croghan Hill.

The writing of ‘Cavan Girl,’ which won the Cavan International Song Contest in 1979, was inspired by a love affair between a couple from the Breffni county, which blossomed in New York in the sixties.

Michael and Rita Woods returned home to run a pub in Sligo, which became a popular venue for gigs. Moore called in one day looking for a booking and after befriending the couple, composed the tune which turned out to be a big hit with many fans.

After splitting with his first wife, Thom went back to America before moving on to Russia, where he fell in love with and married Lyubov Koroleva, an interpreter, before taking up a position as an English language teacher in a university.

Despite his journey through life having many twists and turns, Moore continued to be drawn to Ireland, and Sligo in particular, and while, composing and recording, he frequently returned to the Emerald Isle.

Thom moved back to his spiritual home in Sligo on a permanent basis with his second wife and family in 1995. However, a few years later he became badly affected by illness and passed away in Cherry Orchard Hospital on March 17 last.

Given his great love for this country and how significantly he contributed to its music, it was perhaps appropriate that Thom Moore passed away on the national feast day.  

A few days after his death, his ashes were scattered from the top of Knockarea Mountain in Sligo, a peak where, according to legend, the remains of Queen Maeve, the Queen of Connacht, were laid to rest a few centuries ago.

It was Thom Moore’s final wish that his ashes be strewn on the mountain and family relations and friends from the music world and Sligo were present at the ceremony. Some of them took turns to scatter the ashes and, appropriately, some of his songs were performed.

It was a fitting tribute to a man who brought a lot of pleasure to so many during an eventful lifespan.

As I walk the road from Killeshandra, weary I sit down,
For it’s twelve long miles around the lake to get to Cavan town.
Through Oughter and the road I go, once seemed beyond compare,
Now I curse the time it takes to reach my Cavan girl so fair.
The autumn shades are on the leaves, the trees will soon be bare.
Each red-gold leaf around me seems, the colour of her hair.
My gaze retreats to find my feet and once again I sigh
For the broken pools of sky remind me of the colour of her eye.
At the Cavan Cross, each Sunday morning there she can be found,
And she seems to have the eye of every boy in Cavan town.
If my luck will hold, I’ll have the golden summer of her smile
And to break the hearts of Cavan men, she’ll talk to me a while.
So next Sunday evening finds me homeward, Killeshandra bound,
To work the week till I return and court in Cavan town.
When asked if she would be my bride, at least she’d not said “no,”
So next Sunday morning, rouse myself, and back to her I’ll go.