The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem: Irish Songs of Drinking and Rebellion

It’s in no small part due to the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem that Irish folk music has risen to the level of popularity that it has today. Influential beyond words, the Clancy Brothers reside comfortably on most Irish bands “tops of the genre” list. Really, all that need be said about the Clancy Brothers can be summed up thusly: One of the most influential and popular groups of the genre, the Clancy Brothers works and their collaborations with Tommy Makem have become known as indispensable classics of the movement.

The brothers Clancy (Paddy, Tommy and Liam) hail from Carrick-on-sur, County Tipperary, Ireland (same county as Shane Mac, for those keeping score.) It was said that their mother loved a singsong, and the least excuse would do to burst into one. Their father was an opera singer, so the boys came by it honestly. After various musical endeavors (Paddy and Tom serving in the RAF and emigrating to Canada, then on to America as actors) Liam Clancy and Tommy Makem went to America. They joined Paddy and Tommy (who were running a theatre) there and to supplement the income, they started singing in a place called “The Filthy Pig” in Greenwich Village.

The shows they played were boisterous, playing old Irish traditionals with one mike between the four of them. They soon gained notoriety, with people like Bob Dylan showing up for gigs. Their Mother knitted them Aran sweaters, they appeared on Ed Sullivan and could see that big things lay on the horizon. And although the Irish in America were still hesitant and by no means full of today’s boisterous Irish pride, the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem helped shatter that by performing for President Kennedy in the white House, complete with a sneeringly defiant “We Want No Irish Here.”

Over the years, the group used drama, humor, conflict, joy and pain to express their simple folk tunes and to bring Irish music to a new level. The collection I have chose to represent them is “Irish Songs of Drinking and Rebellion” but there are many, many others out there that would be just as good. On this appealing disc, it is amazing how much can be conveyed through the tunes, ranging from rebel anthems to drinking sing-a-longs. From the simple, plaintive whisperings of “The Patriot Game”, to how much emotion they can evoke in songs like “Kevin Barry” and how much raucous joy “A Jug Of Punch” or “Finnigan’s Wake ” might induce. True, this is a simple introduction to the group, but it shows just how much they are capable of. Just when you think you have pegged down the happy tippling tunes like “Whisky You’re the Devil”, they bring things down with the perennial funeral favorite “The Parting Glass” and you’ll thank God that you have heard it, and thank God the Clancy Brothers chose to share their immense talent with the folk world. We’re all better for it.

So, pick up this or any other such collection for you can rarely go wrong with the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. Treat yourself if you already haven’t.

February 2002

Review by Sean Holland