Those We Lost: recent Irish-American passings


Liam Clancy

Liam Clancy, the last surviving member of the Clancy Brothers, died December 4 in Cork, Ireland, at age 74. He had been treated for the lung disease pulmonary fibrosis.

Born the youngest of 11 children in Co. Tipperary, Clancy immigrated to America in 1956 with plans for a career on the stage. He joined his older brothers Tom and Paddy in New York, and they began performing Irish folk songs along with friend and fellow immigrant Tommy Makem at local clubs. In the early 1960’s, the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, as they were billed, starred on The Ed Sullivan Show, and their career took off in the folk music center of Greenwich Village, where Clancy became friends with fellow musician Bob Dylan. In 1984, Dylan said, “I never heard a singer as good as Liam ever. He was just the best ballad singer I’d ever heard in my life. Still is, probably.”

In 1973, Clancy began a solo career and starred in his own television show in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. In the 1980s, he again teamed up with Tommy Makem and the pair recorded such classics as “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda” and “The Dutchman.” Clancy published his memoir, The Mountain of the Women, in 2002, and a documentary about his life, The Yellow Bittern, came out in 2009. 

Tom Deignan’s poignant last interview with Liam Clancy in the April/May 2009 issue of Irish America covered the quartet’s historic rise to fame. “With their Aran sweaters, tin whistles and banjos, The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem might seem to be the quintessential Irish trad artists. But they were, in many ways, a radical departure who then went on to change Irish-American culture,” wrote Deignan. Liam Clancy told Irish America: “Irish people in Ireland were surprised. They’d never heard these songs this way.” Recalling the popularity that ensued after their breakthrough performance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1961, Clancy recalled, “We just did not understand the significance…It was like getting a blessing from the Pope!”

Tom Clancy died in 1990, Paddy Clancy in 1998, and Tommy Makem in 2007. Liam Clancy is survived by his wife Kim, sisters Joan and Peg, children Eban, Siobhan, Donal and Fiona, and eight grandchildren.

Tim Costello

Noted labor advocate and author Tim Costello died December 4 at his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts of pancreatic cancer. He was 64. A Boston native, Costello spent two decades as a truck driver and was a vital voice for workers’ rights. Born in 1945 with a father who was a union president, he joined Students for a Democratic Society at the New School in New York, around the same time that he began driving oil trucks. In 1971, he moved back to Boston and became an outspoken voice and writer against corruption in the Teamsters union. 

In 1999, Costello founded the Campaign on Contingent Work, which evolved into the North American Alliance for Fair Employment, and in 2005, he helped to found Global Labor Strategies, which encouraged cross-border alliances to improve wages and working conditions in the context of a new climate of outsourcing and globalization. He was the co-author of four books: Common Sense for Hard Times in the 1970s, Building Bridges: The Emerging Grassroots Coalition of Labor and Community in 1990, and Global Village or Global Pillage: Economic Reconstruction From the Bottom Up in 1994, all with co-author Jeremy Brecher. Brecher and Costello teamed up with Brendan Smith in 2000 to publish Globalization From Below: The Power of Solidarity.

Costello is survived by his brother Sean, his wife Susanne Rasmussen, his daughters Pia and Gillian, and two grandchildren.

John Crofton

Sir John Crofton, a medical pioneer, researcher and clinician who demonstrated the effectiveness of combinations of antibiotics in curing tuberculosis, died November 3 at age 97 in his home in Edinburgh. He began his work in the late 1940s, when antibiotics were first being used in clinical practice, but tuberculosis was resistant to each drug that doctors attempted to treat it with. Crofton used a three-antibiotic combination on tuberculosis patients in Edinburgh and announced his findings at the 1958 meeting of the British Medical Association. His treatment had cured tuberculosis in 63 patients over 18 months.

Born the son of a physician in Dublin, Ireland, Crofton received bachelor and doctor of medicine degrees from Cambridge University. During WWII, he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and served in France, Germany and the Middle East, including Egypt, where he met Dr. John Guyett Scadding, a British expert who invited Crofton to work with him after the war and steered him towards the research that would form the basis of his career.

Crofton is survived by his wife Eileen, three daughters, two sons, 11 grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.