THE onslaught of Irish music was cleverly, albeit inadvertently, orchestrated from both sides of the
If the Dubliners had led the assault from their base in the Irish capital, then they were ably supported in far-off
We certainly missed the rise of both groups in the 1960s, but more than made up for it in the Seventies. And, while the Dubliners offered a kind of in your face, take us or leave us attitude, it was the Clancy Brothers who proffered a more artistic face. They, to my mind, aimed deliberately to make beautiful music, which is not to say that the Dubliners were not capable of the sublime in their own right. But there was something about the harmonising of those three brothers – Tom, Paddy and Liam – along with Tommy Makem, which gave the Clancys a slightly different focus. But how did they come to leave old
As usual, Wikipedia starts with a brief overview of the band, whom they say were “an Irish folk music singing group, most popular in the 1960s, who were credited with popularising Irish traditional music in the
And where else would an Irish folk music group in
The Clancys loved rebel songs, probably even more than the Dubliners, and would also often preface them with a bit of poetry from one of
The Rising of the Moon
What the Clancys did do was predate the Dubliners by six or seven years, bringing out the first of more than 50 albums as early as 1956. Their recorded history, as it were, is the same age as I am. That first album was The Rising of the Moon, also known, says Wikipedia, as Irish Songs of Rebellion. We did not follow the band like out and out groupies. As with so many other bands, we lost contact with them, while always savouring their music. So their history is all new to me, including, sadly, the deaths of key players, like Tommy Makem. It seems they split up in 1975, with Liam and Makem reforming as a duo and releasing several albums. The other brothers were joined by older brother Bobby, and their nephew, accomplished musician Robbie O’Connell. Indeed, I bought a tape by this line-up while in the
A little snippet of interest is that their mother used to knit those Aran sweaters for her many sons originally. While they feature on many album covers, they were not always worn live on stage.
The Bold Fenian Men
The best guide to their progress is the albums they released. I have been able to find reasonably complete disocographies, but not the track lists for all the albums. One, The Bold Fenian Men, from the early 1960s, has been particularly elusive. I did a quick search and found that a “mint” copy of the album was being offered for $45. But no track listing. However, I did find the title track’s lyrics, which instantly reminded me of what an impact this, for us, remote piece of history had. And it was all down to the beauty of the song, and the powerful way it was presented by the group. “ ‘Twas down by the glenside, I met an old woman / She was picking young nettles and she scarce saw me coming / I listened a while to the song she was humming / Glory O, Glory O, to the bold Fenian men.” And you really do experience the whole emotional thrust of that line, as sung by the group. “ ‘Tis fifty long years since I saw the moon beaming / On strong manly forms and their eyes with hope gleaming / I see them again, sure, in all my daydreaming / Glory O, Glory O, to the bold Fenian men.” I had little idea at the time who the Fenians were, but did know it was about
In Person at Carnegie Hall
But enough of this political waffle, what of the Clancy Brothers’ music? I remember in probably the early 1970s we had this cassette tape – made from one of those brothers’ albums, no doubt - of a live Clancys concert in which they sing some children’s songs. Bizarrely, near the end, the tape was overtaped, so from these delightful songs from their youth in
From rebel songs to songs about the drink. “In the sweet county Lim’rick, one cold winter’s night / The turf fires were burning, when I first saw the light /And a drunken old midwife went tipsy with joy / As she danced round the floor with her slip of a boy.” Then the chorus: “Singing ban-ya-na mo if an-ga-na / And the juice of the barley for me.” The Juice Of The Barley was yet another of those songs which encouraged our rather unhealthy interest in alcohol, something that I have only in the past few years, with the advent of light lagers, been able to stem fully. But at the time it was a thing of delight, which I suppose all young people go through. “Well when I was a gossoon of eight years old or so / With me turf and me primer to school I did go. / To a dusty old school house without any door, / Where lay the school master blind drunk on the floor … (and then the chorus). The next verse reads: “At the learning I wasn’t such a genius I'm thinking, (at which Paddy, I think it is, adds, “wasn’t much good at poetry either) / But I soon beat the masters entirely at drinking, / Not a wake nor a wedding for five miles around, / But meself in the corner was sure to be found (chorus). / One Sunday the priest led me out from the altar / Saying you’ll end up your days with your neck in a halter; / And you’ll dance a fine jig between heaven and hell / And his words they did frighten me the truth for to tell (chorus). / So the very next morning as the dawn it did break / I went down to the vestry the pledge for to take, / And there in that room sat the priests in a bunch / Round a big roaring fire drinking tumblers of punch (chorus).” A wistful air is then adopted by the singer. “Well from that day to this I have wandered alone / I’m a jack of all trades and a master of none, / With the sky for me roof and the earth for me floor, / And I’ll dance out my days drinking whiskey galore.” It certainly put a thirst on you!
The older Clancy brothers were theatrically trained, and this shines through in their presentation of poems like the story of O’Driscoll (The Host Of The Air), who has a dream while playing cards. “Then he heard it, high up in the distance, a piper piping away / And never was piping so sad, and never was piping so gay.” My brother Alistair got into 100 Pipers whisky for a time, and one of his favourite lines was to shout out “what was that?”. And when no-one knew what he was talking about, he’d say he thought he had just heard the sound of 100 pipers. And so would commence another drinking session, with the Dubliners, Clancys or maybe some bluegrass from the likes of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band as inspiration. And we could really get into a song like Reilly’s Daughter, the next track, which we were convinced had been altered to make it more acceptable. I mean would a young, virile young man have the following thought: “As I was sitting by the fire / Talking to O’Reilly’s daughter / Suddenly a thought came to my head / I’d like to marry O’Reilly’s daughter.” There was a shorter, four letter word, which would have been more appropriate, we believed. It always fascinates me how they spell the words in these choruses. This one goes: “Giddy-i-ay, giddy-i-ay, giddy-i-ay / For the one eyed Reilly Giddy-i-ay (*clap *clap *clap) / Bang it on yer oul’ bass drum.” Anyone who has dated a girl will know that the worst part is dealing with her father. Dads, it seems, can be very protective of their daughters’ virtue. Let’s see how O’Reilly fared: “Reilly played on the big bass drum / Reilly had a mind for murder and slaughter / Reilly had a bright red glittering eye / And he kept that eye on his lovely daughter (chorus).” But the more beautiful the daughter, the more difficult the task. “Her hair was black and her eyes were blue / The colonel & the major & the captain sought her / The sergeant & the private & the drummer boy too / But they never had a chance with Reilly’s daughter (chorus).” And Reilly’s not taking prisoners. “I got me a ring & parson too / Got me a scratch in a married quarter / Settled me down to a peaceful life / Happy as a king with Reilly’s daughter.” Then: “Suddenly a footstep on the stair / Who could it be but Reilly out for slaughter / With two pistols in his hands / Looking for the man who had married his daughter (chorus).” But a young man is not to be toyed with. “I caught Old Reilly by the hair / Rammed his head in a pail of water / Fired his pistols in the air / A damned sight quicker than I married his daughter (chorus).”
From this mayhem, the album makes a major switch, and one is presented with arguably the finest piece of folk singing ever. Liam Clancy’s voice is beautiful. There is no other word for it. His brothers have strong, gusty, characterful voices, but Liam’s is pure beauty. And his rendition of Dominic Behan’s Patriot Game on this album is sublime. The key, I noticed, is how well he enunciates his words – “cru-el
The concert then moves onto a robust rebel song, Legion Of The Rearguard, in which the strummed banjo plays a key role: “Up the Republic, they raised their battle cry / Pearse and McDermott will pray for you on high, / Eager and ready, for love of you they die / Proud march the soldiers of the Rearguard.” Then that rousing chorus: “Legion of the Rearguard, answering Ireland’s call, / Hark their martial tramp is heard from Cork to Donegal, / Wolfe Love and Emmett guide you, though your task be hard, / De Valera leads you, soldiers of the Legion of the Rearguard.” I have to admit having missed out on most of those words as a child, not knowing all the names of those struggle heroes. But get a hold of these powerful lyrics: “Glorious the morning, through flame and shot and shell, / Now rally
The next song reveals why the Irish are so musical. Music is in their very language, Gaelic, as the next song proves. Incredibly, it seems most of the people in Carnegie Hall that night knew the Irish words, as they sung along boisterously to Orso Se Do Bheatha Bhaile. Then, as if the juice of the barley wasn’t enough to get us boozing, the following song, Jug Of Punch, reinforced the message. “Twas very early in the month of June / As I was sitting with my glass and spoon / A small bird sat on an ivy bush /And the song he sang was the jug of punch.” We had friends who’d come around and suddenly be confronted by this strange Irish music. Before long, like us, they’d be into the music as well, and would love the songs as much as we did. The chorus goes: “Too-rah-loo-rah-loo Too-rah-loo-rah-lay Too-rah-loo-rah-loo / Too-rah-loo-rah-lay / A small bird sat on an ivy bush / And the song he sang was the jug of punch.” Small wonder the Irish are considered lovers of the tipple, with lyrics like this: “If I were sick and very bad / And was not able to go or stand / I would not think it at all amiss / To pledge my shoes for a jug of punch”. A verse we loved followed: “What more diversion can a man desire / Than to sit him down by a snug coal fire / Upon his knee a pretty wench / And upon the table a jug of punch.” The song is sung with great whooping and shouting, the male voices harmonising superbly. It ends with a sombre message: “And when I’m dead and in my grave / No costly tomb stone will I have / Just lay me down in my native peat / With a jug of punch at my head and feet.”
The lads could be a little rude too, judging by the song,
Small wonder the Irish are such a literarily inventive people when you consider the next medley of children’s tunes. One of the lads tells how they recently returned to their home town and attended a party for their little nephews and nieces, where they fell in love with their childhood songs all over again. But, like the Dubliners had “children’s songs” like Wiela Weila, so those in the rural areas were no less “adult”. The sequence starts with them singing “So early in the morning, so early in the morning, so early in the morning, before the break of day …” “When I was young, I had no sense / I bought a fiddle for eighteen pence / the only thing that I could play / Was over the hills and very far away / So early in the morning etc.” The introduction is made over that, after which each of the performers introduces a little section and then performs it. I was fascinated to see how these were spelt, though I could not find the actual lyrics, so will rely on my transcriptions from the album. “One of the first songs I remember singing,” we are told, was about a snail. They would pick them up and “sing songs to them to try to coax them out of their shells and get them to stick their horns out”. But the snails were called Shellicky Bookeys. So the song went: “Shellicky, Shellicky Bookey / Put out all your horns / all the ladies are coming to see you”, or suchlike. Then, in the next song, the sea becomes the Ilee Alee O. “There’s a big ship sailing on the Ilee Alee O, / the Ilee Alee O, the Ilee Alee O / there’s a big ship sailing on the Ilee Alee O / High-ho, the Ilee Alee O.” Then Tommy Makem, I think it is, since he is the new Bard of Armagh, tells us that in
This is a magic medley. In Wallflowers, again, it is the irreverence of youth that flows through. “Wallflower, wallflower, growing up so high / He has the measles, he’ll never, never die.” Then comes a short, quick piece called Mary The Money, followed by Frosty Weather, which starts slowly: “Frosty weather, snow weather / When the wind blows / We all blow together.” Then comes There Was A Man Of Double Deed, “who sowed his garden full of seed”. When the seeds grow, the birds come for the crop. “And when the birds began to fly, / it was like a shipwreck in the sky”. And so it continues, building up momentum, till finally “and when my back began to break, then I was dead and dead indeed”. Next up was the delightful, if ghoulish, story of how as children on the day after Christmas, St Stephen’s Day, they would go into the fields and kills a little bird called the wren and then dress up and go around from door to door collecting money – ostensibly for “the funeral”. The song they sang was The Wren Song. They explained how some kids would sing it at speed, so they could get to the next house as quickly as possible, while others – the folk-singing types – sang it “slow and deliberately”. The end result, as they do all the versions simultaneously, is a cacophony. While the folk-singers didn’t make much money, they did end up … “in Carnegie Hall”. “The wren, the wren, the king of all birds, / St Stephen’s day was caught in the furze, / Although he was little his honour was great / So jump up, me lads, and give him a treat.” This is the first time I am reading the chorus, which we heard so many times: “Up with the kettle and down with the pan / And give us a penny to bury the wren.” Verse 2. “As I was gone to Killenaule / I met a wren upon a wall, / Up with me wattle and knocked him down / And brought him into Carrick town.” 3. “Droolin, droolin, where’s your nest? / ‘Tis in the bush that I love best / In the tree, the holly tree / Where all the boys do follow me.” 3. “We followed the wren three miles or more / Three miles or more, three miles or more, / Followed the wren three miles or more / At six o’clock in the morning.” 4. “I have a little box under me arm, / Under me arm, under me arm, / I have a little box under me arm, / A penny a tuppence will do it no harm.” 5. “Missus Clancy’s a very good woman / A very good woman, a very good woman / Missus Clancy’s a very good woman / She gave us a penny to bury the wren.” It was near the end of this song that Frank Zappa would take over on that tape over 30 years ago. This time, my tape played on and I picked up on the last few songs on the album. I’m not sure if they were still part of the children’s medley, because they become a lot more political. “Some say the devil’s dead / Some say the devil’s dead, Some say the devil’s dead / And buried in Killarney / Some say he rose again / Some say he rose again / Some say he rose again / And joined the British army.” Then there comes the bizarre “are you ready for a war for we are the English”. “Yes, we’re ready for a war,” comes the reply, “because we are the Irish.” Then the one-upmanship begins, a bit like the knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, who loses all his limbs. “Now we’ve only got one eye for we are the English / Now we have no eyes at all for we are the Irish.” And so it continues, with the English having only one arm and the Irish no arms at all, one legs and no legs at all. “Now we are all dead and gone for we are the English.” The reply: “No we are alive again for we are the Irish…” On the strength of this “victory”, the legendary “Up-the-long-ladder-and-down-the-short-rope-to-hell-with-King-Billy-and-God-bless-the-Pope-and-if-that-doesn’t-do-we’ll-tear-you-in-two-and-send-you-to-hell-with-the-red-white-and-blue!” is repeated to much laughter and loud applause.
After this boisterous bit of blarney, the time arrives for Liam Clancy to present yet another of the most beautiful pieces of folk singing ever heard, as he sings The Parting Glass, accompanied on acoustic guitar. With the other guys joining in at appropriate times, this is a superb piece of male harmonising. The album ends with the benediction: “God bless …”
Tommy Makem and Liam Clancy
With that album, probably our first experience of the Clancys, out the way, it is perhaps time to look at the lives of Tommy Makem and Liam Clancy.
A Makem website says he was the son of “legendary source singer Sarah Makem”. He was known as “the modern day Bard of Armagh” and regarded as “the Godfather” of Irish music – though I hope not with the violent connotations.
“Armed with his banjo, tinwhistle, poetry, stagecraft and his magnificent baritone voice, Tommy has been mesmerizing audiences for more than four decades. He has expanded and reshaped the boundaries of Irish culture, and infused a pride in that culture in the Irish, and a quest for knowledge of that culture in countless others.”
After his highly successful career with the Clancys, Makem pursued a solo career from 1969. Then in 1975, both he and Liam Clancy were booked for solo acts at a festival in
Liam Clancy, the youngest of the brothers, started writing and painting as a teenager in Carrick-on-Suir. Like his brothers, he had a theatrical bent, and before he was 20, had founded a dramatic society and produced, directed and starred in The Playboy of the Western World.
A website on Liam notes that in 1955, American song collector Diane Hamilton visited the Clancy home while on a tour of
In 1973, Liam went solo, becoming an established television performer at his base in
Isn’t It Grand, Boys
So much for the history, it was the music back then that interested us. Freedom’s Sons from 1966 was an album we got into in a big way, with its emphasis on rebel songs. And while The Bold Fenian Men was also appreciated for the same reasons, it too continues to elude me. But one album which I’ve been able to pin down that we had and thoroughly enjoyed was Isn’t It Grand, Boys (also 1966), the title song of which is a typically Irish take on the whole question of mortality. “Always remember the longer you live, the sooner you bloody well die.” We would sing it with gusto, revelling in the use of the word bloody, which was frowned upon as a swear word. “Look at the coffin, / With its golden handles! / Isn’t it grand boys, / To be bloody well dead!” Then the chorus: “Let’s not have a sniffle, / Let’s have a bloody good cry! / And always remember, the longer you live, / The sooner you bloody well die!” 2. “Oh look at the mourners, / Bloody great hypocrites! / Isn’t it grand boys, / To be bloody well dead! (chorus)” 3. “Look at the flowers, / All bloody withered! / Isn’t it grand boys, / To be bloody well dead! (chorus)” 4. “Look at the preacher / Bloody nice fellow / Isn’t it grand boys / To be bloody well dead (chorus).” Then, finally, “Look at the widow, / Bloody great female! / Isn’t it grand boys, / To be bloody well dead! (chorus)”.
Another cracker-jack song from this album is the Galway Races, which the Dubliners also did beautifully. “As I rode down to Galway town to seek for recreation / On the seventeenth of August me mind being elevated / There were multitudes assembled with their tickets at the station / Me eyes began to dazzle and I’m goin’ to see the races.” The chorus reads: “With your whack-fa-the-da-for-the-diddle-ee-iddle-day.” 2. “There were passengers from Limerick and passengers from Nenagh / And passengers from
For sheer beauty, Mingulay Boat Song off this album is hard to beat. “Heel yo ho, boys; let her go, boys; / Bring her head round, into the weather, / Hill you ho, boys, let her go, boys / Sailing homeward to Mingulay / What care we though, white the Minch is? / What care we for wind or weather? / Let her go boys; every inch is / Sailing homeward to Mingulay. / Wives are waiting, by the pier head, / Or looking seaward, from the heather; / Pull her round, boys, then you’ll anchor / ’Ere the sun sets on Mingulay. / Ships return now, heavy laden / Mothers holdin’ bairns a-cryin’ / They’ll return, though, when the sun sets / They’ll return to Mingulay.” Wikipedia says Mingulay is from the Scottish Gaelic Miughlaigh. It is the second largest of the Bishop’s Isles in the
Home Boys Home
Another favourite album of ours from the time was Home Boys Home, which we listened to relentlessly. I remember, a school friend, Wayne Rowland, was one of those who came around to our house and grew to love these songs. He and another mate, Peter Marsden, settled on the
Home Boys Home, from 1968, was arguably the group’s most famous album, because it contains one of the finest songs by a modern composer, Tommy Makem’s Four Green Fields. Patrick, or Paddy, Clancy, in his sleeve notes, says the song is “in the true tradition of the patriotic ballad. Although this song was written by Tommy Makem, the idea of using a secret name for
While that was the highlight of the album, there was much else to stir one’s passions and inspire one. At the time, we almost wished we were Irish, so closely did we relate to these songs. The opening track, Maintain Tay, reveals instantly what it is, apart from the great vocals, that sets the Clancys apart from the Dubliners. It is the use of a double bass, which gives their music a richer, rounder sound than the Dubliners achieved. It is more listenable, unless, like me, you are such a Dubliners devotee that you will broach no criticism of their music. “Gather up the pots and the old tin cans …” is how the song begins. I know if I find the lyrics I’ll want to include them, so let’s leave it at that. Suffice to say that Mountain Tay, or Tea, is another term for hard liquor – like moonshine, poteen, mountain dew, red biddy, holy water, the fire or White Lightning. The next track is also about whiskey, and is sung unaccompanied by, I think, Tom or Paddy, with the others joining in with the chorus: “Whiskey is the life of man / Whiskey from an old tin can / Whiskey oh, Johnny oh / Rising up from down below …” Again, I daren’t go into it. Paddy Clancy says in his sleeve notes that the word whiskey comes from the Gaelic, “Uisge Geatha”, meaning “water of life”. Similarly, since it is also grain-based, beer is known as “liquid bread”. Small wonder that at the time we were rather taken with Irish whiskey, with Jameson’s and Old Bushmills being among our favourites. As usual, the album varies the tempo of the songs, so the next number, sung beautifully by Liam Clancy, is a love song, B For Barney. Then Tommy Makem powers back, accompanied by some great banjo, with Black Cavalry, which is a song, not about war, but, it emerges, about fleas. It is another of those songs we knew so well, but the lyrics were a bit difficult to pick up due to the obscure place names: “In the first of me downfall I put out the door, / And I straight made me way on for Carrick-on-Suir; / Going out by Rathronan ’twas late in the night / Going out the west gate for to view the gaslight” – then slap into the chorus – “Radley fal the diddle I / Radley fal the riddle airo.” It is another amusing story put into verse: “There I met with a youth and unto him I said / ‘Would you kindly direct me to where I’ll get a bed?’ / It was then he directed me down to Cook’s Lane, / To where old Dick Darby kept an old sleeping cage / There I put up and down ’til I found out the door, / And I cried, ‘Must I then spend the night on the floor?’ / And the missus came out and these words to me said, / ‘If you give me three coppers I’ll give you a bed.’ / She took me upstairs and she put out the light, / And in less than five minutes I had to show fight. / In less than five more, sure the story was worse, / For the fleas came about me and brought me a curse. / All round me body they formed an arch, / And all round me body they played the dead march. / The bloody old major gave me such a nip / That he nearly had taken the use of me hip. / Now I’m going to me study, these lines to pen down, / And if any poor traveller should e’er come to town, / If any poor traveler benighted like me, / Oh, beware of Dick Darby and the black cavalry.”
After that came Four Green Fields, written Greenfields on the album, and then the title track, Home Boys Home, with Liam again to the fore. It is a song also done superbly by the Dubliners, and concerns a boarder who courts a sewing maid in the 19th century. “Well who wouldn’t be a sailor lad, sailing on the main, / To gain the good will of his captain’s good name, / He came ashore one evening for to be, / And that was the beginning of me old true love and me.” Then that rousing chorus: “And it’s home boys home, home I’d like to be, / Home for a while in me own country, / Where the Oak and the Ash,and the bonny Rowan tree, / Are all growing greener in the old country.” Omitting the chorus, this is how the story proceeds: “Well I asked her for a candle for to light me way to bed, / And likewise for a handkerchief to tie around me head, / She tended to me needs like a young maid aught to do, / And then I said to her now would you leap in with me too.” 3. “Well she jumped into bed making no alarm, / Thinking a young sailor lad could do to her no harm, / Well I hugged her and I kissed her the whole night long, / Till she wished the short night had been seven years long.” 4. Well early next morning the sailor lad arose, / And into Mary’s apron threw a handful of gold, / Saying take this me dear for the mischief that I’ve done, / For tonight I fear I’ve left you with a daughter or a son.” 5. “Well if it be a girl child send her out to nurse, / With gold in her pocket and silver in her purse, / And if it be a boy child, he’ll ware the jacket blue, / And go climbing up the riggin’ like his daddy used to do.” What appealed so much about these songs was that they were old; echoes of a bygone era.
Side 2 opens with Liam singing a delightful song about a woman whose sister gets married off, but she’s left on the shelf. In Old Maid In A Garrett the woman laments: “Now I’ve often heard it said from me father and me mother / That going tae a wedding is the making of another / Well, if this be true, I will go without a biddin / O kind providence, won’t you send me tae a wedding.” Then the chorus: “And its O dear me, how would it be, / if I die an old maid in a garret.” 2. “Well, there’s my sister Jean, / She’s not handsome or good looking / Scarcely sixteen and a fella she was courting / Now at twenty-four with a son and a daughter / Here am I at forty-five and I’ve never had an offer.” 3. “I can cook and I can sew and I can keep the house right tidy / Rise up in the morning and get the breakfast ready / There’s nothing in this whole world would make me half so cheery / As a wee fat man to call me his own deary.” 4. “So come landsman or come pinsman, come tinker or come tailor / Come fiddler or come dancer, come ploughboy or come sailor / Come rich man, come poor man, come fool or come witty / Come any man at all that will marry me for pity.” 5. “Well now I’m away home for nobody’s heeding / Nobody’s heeding and nobody’s pleading / I’ll go away to my own bitty garret / If I can’t get a man, then I’ll have to get a parrot.”
It was a lovely song, even though at the time, I never knew all the words. The Irish sense of humour shines through in so many of these traditional folk songs, like nowhere else in the world. Tommy Makem uses the full power of his voice, alongside an accordion, on Bard Of Armagh, a story about a blind harper, which we are going to leap past before it grabs us, in order to focus on another classic, D-Day Dodgers, which I think is sung by Liam, with the others singing alternate verses. It was written by Hamish Henderson of the British Eighth Army, which fought in North Africa and
That full-bodied Clancys sound is again much to the fore on the next track, a love song called I Once Loved A Lass, which again includes incredible images that I have found inspirational. “I once loved a lass and I loved her so well / I hated all others that spoke of her ill / But now, she’s rewarded me well for my love / For she’s gone to be wed to another.” 2. “When I saw my love go through the church doors / With bride and bridesmaiden, they made a fine show / And I followed along with my heart full of woe /
For now she is wed to another.” 3. “When I saw my love a-sit down to dine / I sat down beside her and I poured out the wine / And I drank to the lass that should have been mine / But now she is wed to another.” I loved this next verse, reading it here for the first time: “The men of yon forest, they ask it of me / ‘How many strawberries grow in the salt sea?’ / And I ask of them back with a tear in my eye / ‘How many ships sail in the forest?’ ” His morbidity is complete. “So, dig me a grave and dig it so deep / And cover it over with flowers so sweet / And I’ll turn in for to take a long sleep / And maybe in time I’ll forget her.” Can anything be as powerful as the emotions generated by “love”? “So, they dug him a grave and they dug it so deep / And covered it over with flowers so sweet / And he’s turned in for to take a long sleep / And maybe by now he’s forgotten.”
But the Clancys would’t allow you to remain maudlin for long, and the album ends stylishly with a brilliant bit of song-writing from down under. Played at a cracking pace, with banjo and tin whistle, this song, like the Pub With No Beer, for me illustrates the close affinity between
How long is a piece of string? The problem with a project of this nature is that with some groups, the extent of their contribution to the world’s music pool is almost limitless. The Clancys and Tommy Makem have poured their souls into Irish music for about half a century, either as the original line-up or in various new permutations. My dilemma is summed up by Liam Clancy on the sleeve notes of The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem In Concert (1967). He writes: “Songs, like jokes, seem to emerge endlessly from some underground source. For hundreds of years our gang have been pouring out songs about everything under the sun. They still are. And while ever we can sing for our supper or get anyone to join us in ‘the crack’ as they say, we’ll sing them.”
While most of those songs are “traditional” and stem from those “hundreds of years” Liam Clancy refers to, Tommy Makem was one of those who added to the great melting pot of Irish music. On this album, he does Winds Of Morning, which he wrote on the
The Foggy Dew has a timeless quality; it seems to capture in slow-motion the seminal events of Easter, 1916. I suspect it formed part of the famous Medley Commemorating The 50th Anniversary Of The Uprising Of 1916 on the Freedom’s Sons album of 1966.
Here, finally, since there is really no end to the piece of string that is Irish music, is Tommy Makem’s evocative The Foggy Dew: “It was down the glen one Easter morn, to a city fair rode I / There Ireland’s lines of marching men, in squadrons passed me by / No pipes did hum nor battle drum did sound its dread tattoo / But, the Angelus bell o’er the Liffey swell, rang out in the Foggy Dew.” I have tried in my amateurish way, to play this tune on the guitar, where I really got to appreciate that last line. The River Liffey is like an intimate, more accessible River Thames. It is a vital and integral part of the character of
If that doesn’t warrant recognition alongside the greatest poetry of the 20th century, I don’t know what does. It is a measure of the sort of literary and musical quality which suffuses so much of Irish traditional music. And we were fortunate, as young whippersnappers, to be able to tap into the work of both the Dubliners and the Clancys and Tommy Makem, arguably the greatest exponents of the idiom, who brought Irish traditional music into the global village and kept it there for half a century. Today, on the back of that success, Irish groups like U2 and the Waterboys, the Pogues and Planxty, the Corrs and the Chieftains – the list just grows and grows – have become household names.
We were fortunate to get into this genre when it was at its freshest – in those incredibly rich 1960s and 1970s, the wellspring of a global musical phenomenon.