Life & Culture
Premium Irish Circle
Working in Ireland
Irish Name Register
Advice & Resources
Music & Songs
History & Archaeology
Heritage & Culture
News & Politics
Enter your e-mail address to receive our weekly e-Newsletter:
Irish Voice News
Makem, An Irish Legend, Passes
August 9, 2007
By Mike Farragher
TOMMY Makem, widely regarded as the modern day Bard of Armagh and the godfather of Irish music, passed away last Wednesday. He was 74 years old. He succumbed to lung cancer and died peacefully in his Dover, New Hampshire home.
President Mary McAleese of Ireland led the tributes to Makem after his death. “Always the consummate musician, he was also a superb ambassador for the country, and one of whom we will always be proud,” McAleese said.
Congressman Joe Crowley of New York, a Makem friend, also passed his condolences on.
“Tommy was a friend and a talented performer, for whom I held tremendous respect,” Crowley said.
“A singer, storyteller and musician, Tommy instilled a deep sense of pride in people of Irish descent and he helped to share our culture with those around the globe — educating generations on the history, traditions and ways of life of Ireland.”
Irish Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism Seamus Brennan said he had learned of Makem’s death “with great regret.”
“He was a multi-talented artist whose abilities went beyond music, with other skills as a storyteller, actor, songwriter and poet,” he said.
Armed with his banjo, tin whistle, poetry, stagecraft and his magnificent baritone voice, Tommy mesmerized audiences for more than four decades. Simply put, his contributions to Celtic culture cannot be overstated. He expanded and reshaped the boundaries of Irish culture, and infused a pride in that culture in the Irish, and a quest for knowledge of that culture in countless others.
Tommy’s ambition to become an actor took him to New York where, after a brief but rewarding career in live television, summer stock and Off Broadway plays, he teamed up with Liam, Tom, and Paddy Clancy. Folk music was the “in” music in 1961 and when Tommy appeared at the Newport Folk Festival, he and Joan Baez were chosen the two most promising newcomers on the American folk scene. Both have fulfilled that promise.
“Tommy was a man of high integrity, honesty, and his courage really shone through towards the end,” Liam Clancy told RTE Radio in Dublin. “He just had the knack of making an audience laugh or cry... holding them in his hands.”
During those early days, the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem were heavily influencing a folk movement in the States; they counted Bob Dylan as one of their biggest fans. “Topical songs weren’t protest songs,” Dylan wrote in his memoir Chronicles Volume One.
“What I was hearing pretty regularly, though, were rebellion songs, and those really moved me. The Clancy Brothers — Tom, Paddy and Liam — and their buddy Tommy Makem sang them all the time.” That love affair carried on into the decades. In 1992, Makem and the Clancys were among the stars performing in a gala tribute to Dylan at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Tracy Chapman and Dylan himself also took part.
Together with the Clancy Brothers, Tommy appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, the Tonight Show, and on every major television network show in the U.S.
They soon became the four most famous Irishmen in the world. They played to SRO audiences from New York’s Carnegie Hall and London’s Royal Albert Hall to every major concert venue in the English-speaking world.
In 1969 Tommy left the Clancy Brothers to pursue a solo career and immediately sold out the Felt Forum in Madison Square Garden in New York. His popularity soared, and he went on to three sold out concert tours of Australia, including Sydney’s Opera House, three in the United States and several in Canada, Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales and all within a two year period of time.
Tommy continued his concert career on a solo basis until July of 1975 when he was booked for a festival in Cleveland, Ohio. Liam Clancy was booked as a solo act for the same festival.
Tommy and Liam were persuaded to do one set together and thus began Makem and Clancy, the magical combination which was to last until March of 1988 and which garnered them an Emmy nomination for a TV series done with New Hampshire Public Television as well as several platinum and gold records.
Makem wrote dozens of hits that are forever embedded in Irish pub jukeboxes on either side of the Atlantic. His best-known songs include “Four Green Fields,” “Gentle Annie,” “Red is the Rose,” The Rambles of Spring,” “The Winds Are Singing Freedom”, and “Farewell to Carlingford.”
In later years, Makem continued to give back to the Irish culture by lending his formidable brand to arts and culture. The first Tommy Makem International Festival of Song was held in South Armagh in June 2000.
Tommy was said to be especially proud of the brilliant success of this event, which drew people from U.S., the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, England and of course, many from other parts of Ireland to mingle with the locals.
Asked recently if he had any plans to retire, he replied “Yes, of course, I retire every night and in the morning when I awake I realize just how lucky and privileged I am to be able to continue doing the things I love to do.”
A funeral Mass for Makem will be held on Thursday in Dover at St. Mary’s Church on Third Street at 11 a.m.
Share this story:
Add to del.icio.us
Email a friend
© IrishAbroad.com 2009
Terms of Service
Add To My Site
| Bookmark us! (CTRL-D)
Use the code snippet below to link back to this page:
<a href="http://www.irishabroad.com/news/irish-voice/news/tommy-makem-legend090807.aspx">Makem, An Irish Legend, Passes</a>