Tributes pour in for country icon Gene Stuart from Tyrone

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Music fans and the Killeeshil and Dungannon communities are in mourning following the death of singing legend Gene Stuart on Thursday.

Having launched twenty albums, one recorded in Nashville, many singles including an Irish top ten hit, and four videos, Gene, who was 72, still enjoyed the spotlight right up to when he first became ill last year.

The father of three - a former photographer with the Dungannon Observer - was well-known across Ireland and England, having sung with his own band The Homesteaders.

Early ambitions of becoming a priest were sidelined as a result of a football injury, but an entirely different vocation emerged for Gene, after he successfully auditioned for leading showband The Mighty Avons at the age of 26 in 1969.

In spite of his fame and iconic status within the country music scene, Gene was a respected member of Killeeshil parish, saying readings at Sunday Mass in Aughnagar chapel and tirelessly fundraising for his community through his annual musical shows.

He was renowned for his gentle, quiet and unassuming manner, and for responding generously to tours and concert requests.

Friend Michael Commins - who had been updating fans about Mr Stuart’s illness - paid tribute to the popular singer.

Writing on Facebook, Mr Commins said: “Gene Stuart, my special friend in country music since the 1970s, died shortly after 4pm today.

“Gene was an absolute legend to those of us who love real traditional country music.

“To me, Gene held iconic status in Irish country music.

“He was always a tremendous ambassador for Tyrone and one of the finest and noblest people on the country circuit.

Sinn Fein MLA Bronwyn McGahan tweeted: “Sad to hear about the death of Country & Western singer Gene Stuart, held in high regard by all of us in Killeeshil Parish & further away RIP.”

The singer’s funeral will take place at 1pm in Killeeshil Church near Dungannon on Sunday.