“But since it falls, onto my lot, that I should rise and you should not. I'll gently rise and I'll softly call, good night and joy be with you all" –The Parting Glass
So farewell, Liam, troubadour and balladeer, Clancy brother, Makem and Clancy maker, folk music genius.
As a kid in the early 1960s I was dragged in front of a new-fangled device called the television and told to watch you and your brothers and Tommy Makem, all bedecked in your Aran sweats singing “Brennan on the Moor.”
It was my father’s way of dragging me away from those other bolts from heaven at the time, “The Beatles,” who he regarded with great suspicion.
I loved them but I grew to love you too. There was something about the swagger and the deep sense of pride in a native culture you touched in us all. Old ballads were taken off the shelf, dusted down and given an electric new energy. You reinvented Irish folk music and created a legend that will last forever.
You were unapologetic about the old songs, which some “modernists” claimed belonged on the scrap heap. Instead, you reinvented them and reinvented the culture along with them.
We named you in our magazine Irish America as one of the Irish of the Century in 2000 and you appeared with Tommy at our event at the Plaza Hotel. You stole the show, although President Clinton, Gregory Peck and Maureen O’Hara among others were there.
You would not come down off the stage, you were in great form and you and Tommy sang your lungs out. You had a wild look in your eyes that night, the songs were sung with great abandon and sheer joy, you brought the house down.
You showed me what a great performer looked like up close, though the songs you were singing were classics, you made it feel like they were being sung for the first time.
And “The Dutchman” – your greatest song of all about Margaret and her lover who is losing his mind growing old and senile by the canal in Holland.
"He watches tugboats down canalsAnd calls out to them when he thinks he knows the captain
'Til Margaret comes to take him home again
Through unforgiving streets that trip him
Though she holds his arm
Sometimes he thinks that he's alone and calls her name."
She still loves him because she saw “her unborn children in his eyes,” an image that forever haunts. I never heard you sing that song that it did not bring a tear to my eyes.
So farewell, good night and joy be with you all – all now gone – the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. There’s a hell of a hooley in heaven tonight.
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