Archiver > IRISH-IN-CHICAGO > 2007-08 > 1186201748

From: Nan Brennan <>
Subject: [IRISH-IN-CHICAGO] Tommy Makem "It's in all of us now"
Date: Fri, 3 Aug 2007 23:29:08 -0500

Boston Globe: Aug 3, Kevin Cullen.

> Like all great troubadours, Tommy Makem isn't dead. His body is
> lifeless, having finally succumbed to the lung cancer that ate away
> at him the last two years.
> But Tommy Makem was an Irish soul singer, and souls don't die. His
> music is preserved, on the old vinyl LPs he made with his pals, the
> Clancy Brothers, more recently on CDs, more intimately in memory,
> in the hard drive of any brain that heard his basso profundo voice.
> To hear Tommy Makem sing "Four Green Fields" was to hear Enrico
> Caruso sing "Vesti la giubba," or James Brown sing "I Feel Good."
> He was for Irish traditional music a great ambassador, and a
> consummate performer.
> When I first met Makem 25 years ago in a Holyoke bar, we talked
> about music. I wanted to ask him about his concerts in Carnegie
> Hall and the Royal Albert in London. But when I casually mentioned
> I had recently sat in Gus O'Connor's pub in Doolin, in County
> Clare, and met a farmer named Miko Russell, who produced a tin
> whistle and played it like a virtuoso, Tommy Makem had stories
> about Miko Russell that went on and on.
> Tommy Makem arrived at Logan Airport in 1955, with one of those
> makeshift, masking-tape-bound suitcases that Irish immigrants
> carried before the country got rich. Ireland was desperately poor
> then, and Makem and the Clancys -- Paddy, Tom, and Liam from County
> Tipperary -- were desperate to get work as actors in New York.
> But they found it easier to make a few bob in the pubs, singing the
> songs they grew up hearing, the Clancys in the southwest of
> Ireland, Makem in the north of Ireland, in the musically rich
> county of Armagh.
> The pubs of New York then were in a post-beatnik era when anything
> was possible, and the beats who heard the Clancy Brothers and Tommy
> Makem sat up and noticed. The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem were
> soon on "The Ed Sullivan Show" and in major concert halls around
> the world.
> Their music inspired a phenomenon sociologists call "third
> generation return," in which the grandchildren of immigrants
> discover and embrace their roots. Tommy Makem sang to the Irish
> diaspora, some 70 million of them, songs that gave context to the
> colonization and subjugation of Ireland that explained why you were
> listening to the song in Boston, Bristol, or Brisbane.
> But the revival of Irish traditional music that the Clancys and
> Makem led went way beyond the diaspora. It brought it all home. The
> native Irish rediscovered their roots. The music spoke of the
> beauty of their land and language, their resilience in the face of
> colonization, deportation, and famine. The songs celebrated triumph
> as much as tragedy.
> Because they were actors first and singers second, there was always
> more to a Clancys and Makem concert than music. They turned
> generations on to the poetry of Yeats, the plays of O'Casey, the
> myths and stories that the bards handed down orally for centuries.
> Their Aran sweaters were a bit corny, but their act was genuine,
> well-rooted in history and melody.
> Tommy Makem played with the Clancys until 1969, had a duo with Liam
> Clancy for more than a decade, and was a solo act since 1988. To
> him, cancer was like a broken E string: an inconvenience, not a
> reason to cancel a show. He was booked through the rest of this year.
> In August 1969, Tommy Makem went to sing at the Free Derry Fleadh,
> a festival meant to give some hope to the people of a town he loved
> so well, a town that bore the brunt of the bloodshed and battered
> heads of the Troubles. I've talked to maybe 20 people from Derry
> over the years who say that hearing Makem's version of "Four Green
> Fields" was their last great memory, before the north of Ireland
> descended into complete madness.
> One of those metaphorical fields, Ulster, ran red with blood for 30
> years. But now it is mostly at peace, and it is greening up again.
> That brought great peace to Tommy Makem.
> Tommy Makem's nephew, Peter, will be speaking at his uncle's
> funeral in the next week. Tommy visited Peter in Newry, County
> Down, just a few weeks ago. Tommy was there to get an honorary
> degree from the University of Ulster. Tommy asked Peter to drive
> him around Keady and Derrynoose in Armagh, where Tommy grew up.
> "He was obviously aware that he was looking at the scenes of his
> childhood for the very last time," said P.J. Bradley, a friend of
> the Makem family.
The music was in the soft, rolling hills of Keady. And then it was in
Tommy Makem.

And now, thanks to Tommy, it's in all of us.

Globe columnist Kevin Cullen previously reported from Dublin and
London as a Globe foreign correspondent. He can be reached at

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