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They may seem a little quaint now, and they probably did when they first entered the scene so many years ago, but there is something to the tradition exemplified by the Clancy Brothers. They have more songs about outlaws in their cannon than Eazy-E; no surprise since they were born into an Ireland only just coming out of a war of independence and a civil war with their native Tipperary particularly contested. Even before the civil war there were a good several centuries of a rather serious streak of disrespect for authority, the local and the foreign, in rural Ireland. It’s often said that all the Irish songs about love are sad and all the ones about dying are upbeat. Given the life impoverished Ireland lived for so many generations, and hardly generations ago, how could it be otherwise?
It is said that both Paddy and Tommy Clancy were members of the IRA in the 1930s, but the last thing the Clancy’s came off as was dangerous. The songs, whether rebel, sea shanty, drinking sing-a-long, outlaw ballad or loves songs were people’s songs; songs from the experiences of common folk and therefore a kind of common memory. The history of Ireland is those songs for many people, though that’s not always for the better. Even when the Clancy’s and Tommy Makem received commercial success you knew they would have done it all exactly the same way if they hadn’t.
In some ways Liam was my favorite (though Tom’s voice was probably the best). He had a more bohemian air than most traditional Irish musicians. Liam’s sense of Irishness gave him an easy solidarity with the troubles of others and a natural place in the underdog’s corner. He may have been conscious of his pub-seanachai persona, but that doesn’t mean it was any less real and he had that classic character’s classic sparkle in his eye. Whatever he’s selling, you know it’s no commodity. There’s a lot to be said for a free spirit and the telling of a good tale. Liam was the youngest and the last one standing having already buried his brothers and Tommy Makem passing a couple of years ago. He died today in Ireland at 74. Farewell.