Trade unionist and traditional singer

Tom Crean

Tom Crean

Tom Crean


Tom Crean’s death occasioned widespread shock and grief. At his funeral, there were performances by traditional musicians including Paul Brady, and novelist John Banville delivered the eulogy.

The huge attendance included trade unionists, Labour Party activists, socialists, radicals, industrial relations practitioners, traditional musicians, People’s College choristers, golfers, neighbours and friends. Everywhere was heard “integrity”, “good man”, “great comrade and friend”.

One of 13 children of Jeremiah and Anna Campbell, he was raised in a welcoming Donnycarney home. After attending Scoil Mhuire, Marino, St Joseph’s, Fairview and North Strand Technical College, Crean began an apprenticeship as a gas-fitter and became a member of the Workers’ Union of Ireland.

He served on his branch committee and the union’s general executive council before being appointed branch secretary in 1975. Following the merger with the ITGWU to form SIPTU, he worked for a range of the union’s branches, including energy, local authority engineers, community and educational employment schemes and CES/Northern Ireland Rail. He earned a deserved reputation for astute bargaining, an ability for problem-solving, and telling it straight to member and employer alike.

He never compromised his social conscience and commitment to equity and equality.

After retiring in April 2001, his skills as a facilitator, conciliator and problem-solver were much in demand. He served the ESB Group of Unions, helping to secure considerable improvements in their pension scheme and was a trustee of the Bord Gáis Pension Scheme.

Crean was active in the Labour Party in Cabra, serving as chair of the local constituency and director of elections for Joe Costello and in local elections. For Costello, Crean was “at the helm” and noted for “his reason and wisdom”.

Instinct for harmony
A fine singer with an instinct for harmony and novel arrangement, from the early 1960s Crean was associated with the Listeners’ Club in Slattery’s basement and the 95 Club in Harcourt Street.

With Séan Corcoran, Finbar Boyle, Kevin Conneff and Tom Sherlock, he founded the weekly Tradition Club, which became the prime venue for traditional musicians.

As a performer, Crean was a member of Press Gang with, among others, Corcoran, fellow Donnycarney man Niall Fennell and Dave Smyth. They introduced Irish audiences to unaccompanied harmony singing, strongly influenced by the Copper Family, in turn influencing the Voice Squad today. For Conneff, Crean’s voice was Press Gang’s “body”.

He played golf in Deerpark, Howth and was an enthusiastic supporter of Bohemian FC soccer club.

Family was immensely important to him. His loss casts a long shadow, which will be nowhere greater felt than by his wife Margaret (née MacConville, whom he married in 1972) and their children Aonghus, Lucy (and her husband Jeff Greene), and Katie, and his siblings Aloysius (Al), Betty, Fergal, Margaret, Maura, Noel and Theresa (Terry).