Friday, March 2, 2012


 “He just had the knack of making
an audience laugh or cry. ...
holding them in his hands,”

Liam Clancy

Tommy Makem was known as "The Bard of Armagh".

An internally celebrated Irish folk musician and storyteller who played the bagpipes, guitar, banjo &  the tin whistle.  Born in Keady, County Armagh in Northern Ireland, he emigrated to the Unites States in 1955- bagpipe in hand.

He came to America to seek work as an actor, but grew to international fame while performing with the band The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem.

Gifted with stagecraft and his baritone voice, and armed with his tin whistle, bagpipes and banjo he ushered in an era folk music. He spread stories and songs of Irish culture around the world.

Among his many fans was a young Bob Dylan, who was inspired by Makem. " “Topical songs weren’t protest songs,” Dylan wrote in his memoir “Chronicles Volume One.” “What I was hearing pretty regularly, though, were rebellion songs, and those really moved me. The Clancy Brothers — Tom, Paddy and Liam — and their buddy Tommy Makem sang them all the time.”

Among Makem's his repertoire  were classics like “Gentle Annie”, “Red Is the Rose", The Rising of the Moon” , “The Patriot Game” & “The Wind that Shakes the Barley”, to name a few.

Even while battling cancer he maintained a performance schedule; he visited Belfast the month before his death to receive an honorary degree and returned to his native Armagh.

He died from lung cancer in 2007. 

According to his obituary in the Economist, the songs he wrote himself he dismissed as “garbage altogether”, never to be compared to the old words and melodies he wanted to preserve in live performance. But a few he was proud of, and none more so than “Four Green Fields”, in which “a fine old woman”—Ireland—sang of her fourth field, Ulster, that was still “in bondage/ In strangers' hands, that tried to take it from me”. In America his audiences, largely third-generation Irish of the diaspora, would weep and sing along until, according to the New York Times man, they were “ready to go out and die for Ireland”.

Makem and the Clancy brothers were no stranger to Newfoundland and Labrador. The showcases at Arts & Culture Center is full of images of them from the numerous shows they performed here.

No countdown of the best Irish tunes leading up to St. Patrick's day would be complete without the late, great Bard of Armagh and his fantastic Four Green Fields!

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