If the story of the Traditional songs and music of County Fermanagh ever comes to be written, I hope that alongside the achievements of those such as the McConnells, P. Flanagan, Eddie Duffy, Mick Hoy, The Gunns, The Nugents, John and Valerie McManus, Seamus Quinn, Gaby McArdle, Jim McGrath, Darren Breslin and Rosie Stewart – to name but a few – a chapter will be reserved for two Roslea legends and friends: the grand old man of Fermanagh song, Tommy McDermott, and the famed uilleann piper, Sean McAloon, the subject of a previous column.

Men and women such as these ought to be remembered not only for the quality and breadth of their music, but for the rich legacy they have left, and are leaving, for future generations.

As well as accomplished performers, they are conduits for preserving and passing on a rich musical tradition.

Tommy McDermott is in his 92nd year, and is still singing like a bird. He loves nothing more than breaking into a verse or three of an old song, and does so regularly when I visit him at his home in Lisnaskea, or when we are chatting on the phone.

Just before Christmas, when we were waiting for our meal to be served in a local cafe, Tommy sang me a couple of verses of an ancient ballad, ‘A Nobleman's Wedding’.

It was one he had recently begun to remember from his childhood, and was fretting that he had not yet put it down on record for posterity.

It is by no means too late, as he recorded his latest CD two years ago when he was 90, and his voice is still strong, clear and tuneful.

Tommy was born in 1932 by the banks of the River Finn, which rises in the townland of Cornacrieve, near Roslea, and flows into Lough Erne at Wattlebridge.

One of many local songs that he has been singing for more than 60 years now is ‘The Lovely River Finn’, a tribute written by a local man, John McKiernan.

Tommy's first two CDs – entitled, ‘In the Shadows of Sliabh Beagh’, and ‘More of the Sliabh Beagh Way’ – chronicle the music of that region where the lakelands of Fermanagh, the bogland and drumlin hills of Monaghan, and the valleys of Tyrone collide.

Tommy inherited a lot of his music from his family.

His mother, Mary Jane, was a fine singer with a wide collection of songs, and his father, Bernard, played the fiddle.

Tommy's grandfather, Robert McDermott, originally from near Pettigo, was also a repository of song.

He rowed pilgrims across to Lough Derg and one of them, Big Biddy Byrne, fell on the stone beds on her pilgrim way and Robert attended to her, resulting in friendship – and marriage!

After Tommy married the love of his life, Aggie Mulligan, in 1955, he moved to her home town of Lisnaskea, where he still resides.

He was a talented fiddle player himself, and also played the piccolo and the clarinet, but his future as a musician ended abruptly at the age of 21 in December, 1953, when a machine at work in Monaghan town caught and mangled the fingers of his left hand.

The accident interrupted, but did not finish, Tommy's football career.

He had played with Fermanagh from 1951 to 1953, but went on to win three Senior Championship medals with Roslea in the mid-50s.

From here on, Tommy became immersed in Traditional singing. He recalls a night in McConnell's famous ceili house in Bellanaleck in the early 1960s, when Sean McAloon asked him to sing his signature song, ‘Matt Hyland’.

Sandy McConnell loved it and insisted that Tommy enter it in the Fleadh Cheoil singing competition.

He did so, and came second in 1964 in Clones, and then first in the All-Ireland Fleadh in Thurles in 1965, singing ‘Matt Hyland’ and ‘My Charming Edward Boyle’.

Tommy has featured on RTÉ’s Traditional music programmes such as ‘Ceili House’, and ‘Hup’, and he also found time to found the first ever branch of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann in Northern Ireland, in Roslea, with himself as Chairman, Sean McAloon as Treasurer, and John Patrick Rooney as Secretary.

Driving around the countryside with Tommy McDermott is an enlightening experience which I thoroughly enjoy.

He reminds me of my father with his intimate knowledge of his native area – topography (the physical features of the land), ‘dinnseanchas’ (lore of places), and community (who lived where, who did what, etc).

What pleases Tommy greatly is knowing that his rich cultural interests are being absorbed and valued by succeeding generations.

His daughter, Olivia, sings with him on occasions, and his grandson, young Tommy, plays concertina and banjo.

He was particularly delighted when young Charlie O'Reilly from Grousehall, near Mullahoran, heard his version of ‘Matt Hyland’, which Tommy gleaned from his mother 80 years ago, learned it, and won the Ulster Junior Traditional Singing competition in 2022 with it.

We owe a huge debt to men such as Tommy McDermott and Sean McAloon.

They nurtured Traditional music and song at a time when it was not always popular.

Sean told me once how he was heckled at a concert in Dublin by people who had no understanding of the wealth of dance music and slow airs he was so adept at playing.

They were shouting, "Do you not know 'Danny Boy', or 'Galway Bay'?"

He went to New York to live for a year afterwards. Sean never drove, and carried his pipes in a box on his back when cycling sometimes long distances to ceilis, concerts and house dances.

He played at Tommy's wedding in 1955. He was also an expert pipe and reed maker and helped many aspiring young uilleann pipers in learning to play that most complex and difficult of instruments.

He was on a par with the famous triumvirate of Seamus Ennis, his friend Leo Rowsome, and Clare's Willie Clancy, whom he defeated at an All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil competition.

His great musical hero was the legendary Sligo fiddler, Michael Coleman, and he smiled as he told me how he would be at home awaiting the post, which would bring the latest Coleman recordings from America, and would then spend forever listening to them on the gramophone while his father wanted him out in the fields to help with the farm work.

The dedication of these two men to their craft, the enjoyment they have brought to so many, and the legacy future generations will benefit from, should make us eternally grateful to Tommy McDermott and Sean McAloon.