Tributes have been paid to the father of Irish country music Larry Cunningham who was buried in Longford on Tuesday. Larry, who died of cancer aged 74, at St. Vincentʼs Hospital in Dublin last Friday, was the first Irish-based artist to appear on Top of the Pops in the 1960s. One of seven children from Clooneen near Granard, County Longford, he left school and came to England to work as a carpenter and while here played Irish traditional music and gaelic football before returning to Ireland in 1958 where, still working as a carpenter, he joined Grafton Showband, but left it in 1961 to become the lead singer of the Mighty Avons, based in Cavan which covered the songs of Jim Reeves, whom they eventually supported when he toured Ireland in 1963. In December 1964 Cunningham and the Mighty Avons had a UK hit with "Tribute to Jim Reeves” a monologue written by Sligo solicitor Eddie Masterson, who wrote it on the back of a John Player cigarette packet. That success was followed by "Lovely Leitrim" in September 1965, which stayed at number one in the charts for
four weeks. In late 1969, he left the Mighty Avons to form Larry Cunningham and the Country Blue Boys. After his marriage in 1972 he gave up regular touring in favour of occasional concerts and recording. He performed with Loretta Lynn, Hank Williams Jnr and Johnny Cash, played to a full house at New York's Carnegie Hall and held the record for the largest crowd at the Galtymore ballroom in London at just over 6,800. Michael Byrne, former proprietor of Cricklewoodʼs Galtymore, said he was saddened to hear of Larryʼs death: “He was always the gentleman and I always looked forward to welcoming him whenever he was booked to appear. He had huge chart successes and played Carnegie Hall but he always liked to remind me that he held the record for the largest crowd of all time at the Galtymore in the 1960s.” Larry is survived by his wife Beatrice, and children Regina, Sinead, Lorcan and Barry and two grandchildren Molly and Peter.