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Liam Clancy: Troubadour of Tipperary (1935-2009)

Updated on January 13, 2015

The Young Shanachie from Carrick-on-Suir

You might say that the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem Reunion tour picked up right where it left off, the moment that Liam Clancy, the youngest of the legendary Irish folk family, departed this earthly plane. The Clancy Brothers couldn't very well proceed without Liam's guitar and those high tenor harmonies, could they?

Liam Clancy was the youngest member of the Irish-American quartet, the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, who popularized both traditional Irish and Scottish songs and contemporary Irish songwriting between the late 1950s and mid-1990s. He was the guitarist and concertina player of the group, besides having the sweetest voice, adept in both singing and recitation of his favorite poetry, Irish and otherwise. He was also among the first to introduce American audiences to traditional songs in the Irish language, beginning with the song "Eamonn a' Chnoic (Ned of the Hill)" on the Clancys' very first album, The Rising of the Moon, released in 1958.

This lens is a kind of virtual toast to Liam and his personal and musical legacy. Listen to his voice but once, and you'll likely never forget it.

UPDATE (TUESDAY, AUGUST 23, 2011): Liam Clancy's autobiographical film, The Yellow Bittern: The Life and Times of Liam Clancy, is now available in Special Edition double-DVD format! Check out the link for more information...

Tommy Makem and Liam Clancy, circa 1978.
Tommy Makem and Liam Clancy, circa 1978.

Lament for a Life-Changer

Liam Clancy's musical career spanned several phases, and more than 50 years. It was still too short a stretch.

I'd like to say that I sent Liam Clancy off without regrets when he passed away on December 4 of last year. But, to my chagrin, I find that there were regrets aplenty in the wake of his departure; not the least of which was the question of why I hadn't known him better than I did. Why don't more of us get to know the people we admire personally, as human beings, rather than putting them on a pedestal, out of our league, beyond our reach? I met Liam several times after shows and during intermissions; and later, after losing touch for a number of years, I reconnected with him via the message board on his website. Liam did, in fact, post regularly and personally to the message board when he was home at his laptop. Nothing beats a description of Christmas parties at Liam Clancy's home, in real time, typed out by the man himself. And yet, all that wasn't the same as truly befriending this person, this artist, and being in regular contact with him.

I knew Liam had had pulmonary fibrosis for some time (figures both he and his brother Bobby would be felled by a disease that robbed them of their beautiful singing voices before killing them outright); but I didn't know how advanced the condition was. Seems it was worse than he let on to us at his message board. He hadn't posted there since late August or early September; but we figured he was busy overseeing the publicity for his new biographical documentary, The Yellow Bittern: the Life and Times of Liam Clancy, which was officially released on his and my shared birthday, September 2 of this fall.

That Friday, December 4, 2009, it was already a bit of a blow, sitting in the Blarney Stone pub in downtown Seattle, seeing the news on CNN of the conclusion of Amanda Knox's bizarre trial in Perugia, Italy. It was later, at Starbucks in Belltown, that I jumped over to Liam's message board, to see if there were any new posts, especially to see if Liam himself was back posting. There were two whole new pages of posts. Titles of posts said things like SAD NEWS. END OF AN ERA. FAREWELL LIAM. RIP LIAM CLANCY, TROUBADOUR. I gave a loud gasp, and began reading the posts, all of them, one by one, before adding one of my own: A PIECE OF MY CHILDHOOD. Liam had died in a hospital in Cork called Bon Secours around noon their time, surrounded by his wife and two daughters. He had been there for exactly a month prior to then. Maybe that's why he hadn't posted in so long.

The photo on this module is of Liam and Tommy Makem from circa 1978 or '79, around the time their third duo album, Two for the Early Dew, was released. This is how they looked when I first saw them in person (at DC's Lisner Auditorium, in March 1979, when I was in ninth grade), and how I most closely remember them. This was when they were touring the world with a two- or three-piece backup ensemble, variously including Archie Fisher, Artie McGlynn, Allan Barty, Nollaig Casey and a few others. I wanted so badly to join their backup group that I had memorized most of their repertoire, including guitar and fiddle parts, by the time I was 16 or so. I started playing along with the records on fiddle and nylon-string guitar when I was 13 or 14, and kept it up through college. I wanted to know Liam and Tommy better, to befriend them, to hang out with them and correspond with them regularly when I wasn't playing with them. But how would I accomplish this? Perhaps I couldn't believe in these dreams strongly enough, because I felt pretty much powerless to accomplish them. Even during the times I met Tommy and Liam after shows and during intermissions, I lacked the courage to put these desires into words. Now, of course, a lot of people would probably tell me, with a dismissive shrug, "Well, no use in talking about these dreams now; those guys are all dead!"

Still, I felt a strong connection, a deep spiritual connection with them all from the time I first began listening to them in grade school; and this is something that cannot be taken from me. This connection has survived even the physical deaths of all of the Original group. When I would see them perform live, I would feel this connection the strongest; but it has always been there. This bond has always reminded me that there is a reason to be alive, and still a way to find joy in living, even when some merciless, callous fates or angels or jealous higher powers kill off all your heroes and role models, steal your most precious dreams, and mock you for having loved and bonded with fellow artists. There is no destroying the deep, expansive love we would send up to Liam when we watched him up on stage, from which spot he would, almost visibly, radiate this joyous energy back to all of us, through songs and poems and theatrical recitations and simple, positive presence, strong enough to revive and fill your heart and soul to the point where you would be able to share the same energy with everyone around you for days afterward. I've never had the same soul-renewing experience with organized religion, of any persuasion.

Liam, you are in a different plane of Reality now, whether Spiritual, Astral, or some other form of being. You have not died; you simply had to let go of your body because it could no longer contain your spirit. I still love you deeply, and still want to share music and conversation with you, whether in a meditative state, journeying, or however. You are still among us, in some dimension, singing your head off among your relatives and friends, and your ancestral bards and poets...

A Life of Music on Film - Liam Clancy's musical life evolved in many directions, with some of the same music!

Including some interviews, reminiscences, and a nearly-forgotten song by Tommy Makem and Sean O'Riada...

Liam Clancy on mp3 - Both singles and albums can be heard and enjoyed via Amazon MP3...

The full recording of the Clancy Brothers' Carnegie Hall masterpiece from 1962, in mp3 format!

Amazon: Your One-Stop Irish Music Shop - Music, DVDs, Books and more, by and about Liam Clancy and friends

The Makem & Clancy Concert
The Makem & Clancy Concert

Arguably the best album by the duo of Tommy Makem & Liam Clancy.

The Mountain of the Women: Memoirs of an Irish Troubadour
The Mountain of the Women: Memoirs of an Irish Troubadour

Liam Clancy's autobiography, covering his early childhood through the Clancy Brothers' first Ed Sullivan appearance.

The Clancy Brothers And Tommy Makem In Person At Carnegie Hall
The Clancy Brothers And Tommy Makem In Person At Carnegie Hall

Recording from legendary 1962 performance at this renowned NYC venue.

Liam Clancy
Liam Clancy

Liam's first solo album, first released in 1965.


Circle of Friends and Fans... - Pull up a chair, lift a pint, and share some songs!

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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Hi, this is a great lens. I've loved the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem since I was a "wee lad".


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