Gene Stuart – A Country Star who held Mayo dear
The world of Irish country music was greatly saddened by the news of the death of Gene Stuart from Killeeshill, Dungannon, Co. Tyrone on the 11th February 2016 at his home after battling with cancer. As one who loved the music of Gene and met him a few times it was indeed tragic news.
There are many people from Belmullet, Glenamoy and the dancers of pontoon who will reminisce with you about the nights they danced to gene in the Palm Court or in Healy’s ballroom and many other venues including the Marine in Enniscrone. This would have been in the early 1970’s and throughout the decade into the 1980’s when Gene was at the height of his performing and recording career and had been successful in the charts.
Recently when this writer met Gene in the Hideout lounge in Foxford he told me that he had very fond memories of the county and the dance dates that he played there.
Gene Stuart joined the big time in country music in the Summer of 1969 when Larry Cunningham left the Mighty Avons to form the Country Blue Boys and Gene got the lead part with the Avons. What was to follow was a successful career with some 10 hit singles and 20 albums and a touring schedule here and abroad.
Gene fell ill with TB in 1973 when he was at his height with the Avons and he was off the road for six months but he made his comeback but not with the Avons but with a new band the Homesteaders for the man who had worked in England on the buildings and as a press photographer with the Dungannon Observer this was yet another phase in an ever burgeoning career path in Country and Irish Music. Gene had first sung with the Dynamic Sounds in the 1960’s before the big break with the Mighty Avons.
In a career that spanned 40 years the gentleman of country music with his gentle, unassuming manner became a legend and was played frequently on local radio stations that did so much to keep country music alive and Michael Commins of Mid-West to mention but one including Michael Fox of Irish country music radio have done much and will continue to keep the music and memories of a great man alive.
Gene had 10 records in the charts in Ireland from 1970 – 1975 and they were all delivered in his inimical way with a rich velvet voice that reminded one of the late Jim Reeves in many respects but saying that Gene Stuart had a unique vocal style that made him one of the country great alongside other Tyrone singers like Frankie McBride, Brian Coll and Phil Begley and the late Johnny Loughery.
One of my all-time favourites of Gene’s was the inspirational song Don’t Go and I’d rather Love and Lose you and of course Kiss an Angel Good Morning but of course there were so many that it is hard to pick just one.
As mentioned earlier when speaking with a neighbour here in Mayo following the news of his death she told me that Gene Stuart loved going to play in the Palm Court Ball Room in Belmullet and would perform there a good few times a year especially with the Homesteaders during the 1970’s that golden era of Irish Country Music.
Certainly gene would have been happy that he and many others have left Irish Country Music in a good state and this was evidenced by RTE’s coverage of it last Autumn and we will conclude with the words from one of Gene’s many gospel songs
“If we never meet again this side of heaven we will meet on that Beautiful Shore”.
May he rest in peace. Ar dheis De go Raibh a anam uasal.