By Aine Ni Shionnaigh
County Sligo is a place shrouded in the mists of time: a stunning landscape of rugged scenery, Neolithic monuments, mythology and mystery.
Sligo has provided poets, writers and musicians, W.B. Yeats, Michael Coleman, Michael Flatley, Mary O'Hara and Neil Jordan to name but a few.
From this mix of excellence in creativity and expression, born and raised in the village of Aclare, comes Tommy Fleming, the “Voice of Ireland,” who sweeps listeners away with the incredible emotion of his voice.
Tommy is as is his place of origin, the Sunday Business Post describing him as "quietly huge.”
Frankie Gavin describes Tommy as "a combination of Luke Kelly and Count John McCormick."
No tribute could be more accurate, or fitting.
Oliver Sweeney of Hot Press magazine says: "Tommy Fleming demonstrates the strength of the Irish tradition. He manages to link the various eras with seamless ease."
Phil Coulter says: "Tommy is the most exciting voice that I have heard since Luke Kelly, he has such a big voice; he's got that great honesty and integrity. He turns each song into his own so it's like you’ve heard it for the first time."
Fleming enjoys worldwide recognition with regular sell-out tours in Ireland, Britain, the U.S., Australia and Japan.
He has over six million Youtube hits and three million album sales worldwide.
The first time I heard Tommy Fleming was many years ago when driving in Ireland.
“Isle of Hope” came on the radio. It brought me to tears instantly and still does.
Years later as I live the emigrant experience myself, I realize how powerful Fleming’s singing is.
Listening to Tommy on the radio that day, his singing transported me to another time, another place, where emigration from Ireland was not a choice, necessary for survival.
As both of us hail from the West of Ireland, emigration is an integral part of our conversation.
I marvel at the fact that while his renditions of classics such as “The Emigrant,” “Danny Boy,” and “Song for Ireland” resonate with the listener.
Fleming has not personally lived the emigrant experience. As he says himself, he is a “home bird” and will never leave the West but is grateful for the opportunity to travel and perform all over the world.
We talk about the fact that while modern communication has changed the face of emigration, there is always a loss of something that remains behind.
A loss of something even less tangible than people and place. This is what legions of fans feel when listening to Fleming perform.
Music was in the air around Tommy growing up.
The Aclare area of Sligo has a very strong musical tradition, particularly traditional music.
"My dad was very quiet," he recalls.
"He loved listening to records.”
Perhaps the mellow tones of Shirley Bassey, Barbara Streisand and the Carpenters, fused together with the extensive traditional Irish collection, made their impact on Tommy's young soul, creating a depth of expression and feeling that now speaks to other souls all around the world.
"The whole family used to gather around the kitchen table on a Sunday afternoon to listen to Ceili House on (RTE) Radio One," Fleming remembers.
"Oh, and of course my granduncle was a great fiddle player and singer who really influenced me.”
Fleming finishes by saying: "You know, the one thing I love about music is that when I close my eyes and sing a song and when I finish and open my eyes, I seem to have taken the people to the place I have gone."
I can attest to this and am so looking forward to Sunday evening, October 1, when Tommy kicks of yet another U.S. tour in New York at the City Winery in Manhattan at 7.30 p.m.
Following New York City, Fleming will perform in Atlanta, Nashville, Boston and Chicago. For more details on albums and tour dates check out http://www.tommyfleming.com