Honored posthumously, June 25, 2016
Tom was born in 1932 in Bronx, NY to Bridie and Hugh McCarey. Both parents had recently emigrated from Ireland- Bridie from Leitrim and Hugh from Monaghan. In his early years, Tom served his country in the Air Force from 1951 to 1955. Before entering the service, he met a Kerry girl, Bridget Foley, whom he eventually married in 1956. Together, they raised seven children in Mineola, Long Island while Tom commuted to Manhattan where he worked as a pressman for the Herald Tribune then later the NY Times.
Mineola also happened to be where the Irish American Center opened its doors in 1959. This was where Tom met the great musicians who would inspire him to evolve from a passive listener to an active participant at the hall. The most notable influences on Tom in the early days were Louis Quinn and John Mulligan. Louis gave Tom his first violin and encouraged him to bring it down to the Center to play. John Mulligan became a dear friend who introduced Tom to many of the great players of the time. The support from these men helped him quickly take his playing from a hobby to a passion. A self-taught musician, he soon went from playing only by ear to reading and writing arrangements to songs played down at the Center.
Music was always a family affair in Mineola. Tom, along with his father Hugh and uncle Jimmy, would bring their fiddles to any family gathering and end up playing the night away. Naturally, he exposed his seven children to the scene at the Center where they would learn Irish Step Dance or take lessons on the fiddle or piano. Sean, Brian, and Kevin Quinn were some of the teachers that instructed the McCarey kids.
Through the years, Tom rarely missed a gathering down at the hall. His 25th wedding anniversary was even held there. But more than anything, his favorite event to attend was always the Sunday night music sessions. On these nights, musicians from all over would come to sit in the big circle and play whatever reel or hornpipe popped into anyone’s head. Tom had great memories of these nights playing alongside some of the top Irish musicians including Matty Connolly, John Fitzpatrick, and Martin Mulhaire. Tom would soon start bringing a tape recorder to these sessions so he could learn any song he wasn’t familiar with on a given night. He would even sit home and transcribe all the new songs he heard. Eventually, he had a vast collection of music at his fingertips. This helped him to build the extensive repertoire of tunes he was known for.
Neighbors will always remember him sitting on the front stoop, fiddle in hand, playing a hornpipe before dinner or hearing a reel coming from the speakers of his car as he drove by. In 1995, after a bout with cancer, Tom passed away; but not before instilling his children with a great appreciation of the music he loved and lived for. Tom was a lifelong fixture at the Irish American Center, a proud Irishman, and a great ambassador for Traditional Irish Music.