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In tribute to Liam Clancy, RIP
by William Ramoutar
Liam Clancy was a star. No two ways about it. After the news of his passing on December 4th, I searched for the news on Yahoo or Google or some such search engine and found an interview by the “new” replacement host for The Late Late Show on Irish television, Ryan Tubridy and said man, Liam Clancy. I noticed it was a two year old piece. Liam at that time was 72 years old, but the sparkle in his eye was still evident.
When he and his brothers hit the shores of Amerikay and found their way to Greenwich Village in the late 1950's, it was all happening. Very shortly thereafter the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, in their gleaming white bainin Aran sweaters, were belting out raucous Irish tunes from celebrated stages throughout this land. The biggest venue back then was Carnegie Hall and they even recorded the concert. Over the next fifteen years there were probably few, if any, homes of Irish heritage that did not have a Clancy Brothers album or two in their record collection. They were “The Beatles” of Irish folk, and make no mistake about it, they were larger than life too. Hard drinking, rollicking through the towns, bringing the Irish “message” to the masses.
Don’t forget, we in Ireland, while not officially involved in the “Second World War”, had just survived rationing, accidental bomb runs by the Germans, and all the nervousness of those terrible years. We also had just twenty years before gained our independence from our bigger neighbour and were adjusting to the fact that now we could start to build a better Ireland. False starts and rocky roads were only the beginning, but along came the lads, belting out these songs, that many had been afraid to sing, except in private houses and sheebeens and Lord if the Irish, didn’t stand up and puff out their chests for the first time, without being knocked down. To me, the Clancys and Tommy Makem were heroes of the first order. They put us on the map in many instances. They showed us as a proud race, funny, intensely nationistic and ready to make friends with the rest of the world. No longer would we be bogmen, or depicted as close to animals, as some would have wished us to be seen.
Liam from the start of it all was a great thinker and reader. He spouted poetry, as if he had fashioned the words himself. His joy in delivering the words is evident, from the early days to just before he passed on. That is what made me fall in love with what the Clancys were all about. They didn’t suffer fools gladly, they spoke or sang their piece, and they never met a pint of Guinness they could pass up. The old animosities touted by our “neighbour” were laughed right out of existence. We were no longer afraid to say we were Irish; we were bloody proud of it. That’s what the Clancys taught us. Liam had the gentle side to him, too. Listen to his version of the Mike Smith song, "The Dutchman", if you doubt me.
I remember coming to this country in 1985 and not knowing a soul and missing home, except for my family, most of whom had come here the year before me. I missed so much about “the ould sod.” One day I heard Liam Clancy and Tommy Makem were "doing a concert" in the Florida Theater in downtown Jacksonville. Well, I nearly ran. I was there late, as I had only heard about the show and arrived to be in the last row downstairs. Liam said, after the first or second song, “Is there anybody Irish here tonight?” Well, begob, the whole house erupted! I was thrilled. Everyone was Irish! He then said, to a man three rows out from the stage, “Sir, where are you from?” In a big booming American voice the man said swelling with pride, “I am from Philadelphia, I’m third generation Irish!” I said to myself okay, let’s hear what the next person Liam is asking the same question to is answering. The next one was, New York, the one after that Detroit, the one after that Miami. Are you getting the drift? My heart was sinking lower and lower as I realized that I might be the only one, except for the two buckos on the stage, who were from “Home.” I’ll tell you, though, by the end of the night, I couldn’t have been happier. The two of them made us laugh, made us cry, and I walked out thinking, “Being here isn’t too bad, if we can laugh the way we just did.” It opened my eyes to what I could do here, given half a chance. All these years later, I have a radio show, passing on the music to anyone who will listen, and delighting in the fact that I can repay, if only just a little of what Liam and Tommy and the Irish music have passed down to me.
To get back to what Liam said that night two years ago on “The Late Late Show” on Radio Telefis Eireann (or RTE, if you are lucky to have an Internet connection) -- Look it up. Ryan asks Liam, “Do you think The Clancys had anything to do with rap?” You will roar with laughter. This man, struggling for breath, puts on a two minute performance that will bring any house down. I have played it for employees and friends alike who wouldn’t know a Clancy…. It’s on "youtube" and it is the second half of the interview, but I don’t want to put you off the first part either.
Learn a little about this man - his time on this earth. I read where he would stand in the wings of the stages, waiting till the last audience member had left the hall, or never afraid to give another performer a chance to do their bit. So many of the people we admire in the business now owe so much to the efforts and heights that The Clancy’s and Tommy Makem attained.
If you already know of them, you don’t need me egging you on, but if this is the first you have heard of any of them, give yourself the huge gift of the enormous wealth and treasure of Liam, his brothers and Tommy Makem’s music.
“'Twas a magic harp they'd made,
And when the maiden touched each strand,
The music led her father home
Across the misty land.”
From Irelands Magic Harp, an old Irish blessing.
Photo Credit: All photos from the official Liam Clancy site
To take a a look back at the life of Liam Clancy.
To hear Liam singing The Parting Glass
This song and many others available on Amazon Clancy Brothers
BIO William Ramoutar
IRISH WAYS RADIO PROGRAMME
WFCF Radio 88.5 FM
Every Sunday 11:00 am to Noon eastern standard time on the radio WFCF 88.5fm
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Review written by William Ramoutar Presenter of Irish Ways Radio Programme, St Augustine Florida
Thu, Dec 7, 2017
Holly and Ivy hanging up and
something wet in every cup*
Not so long ago, Irish Christmas decorations were much simpler than they are now. The children gathered holly and ivy for adorning, windows, doorways, mantles and pictures, and the father would carve out a turnip in which would be placed a large red candle. This would go in the window to light the way for the Holy Family on Christmas Eve. Only in relatively recent times did an Irish family have a Nativity scene and a decorated tree in the house. As for Mistletoe, it's quite rare in ireland and is generally associated with ancient Celtic and Druidic fertility celebrations; this is most likely where the custom of kissing under the mistletoe comes from.
*Old Irish Christmas toast
Image: Pashley Manor Gardens.
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