Musician Tommy Makem dies aged 74

Thu, Aug 2, 2007, 01:00

Celebrated traditional musician Tommy Makem (74) has died of lung cancer in New Hampshire.


Makem, who played banjo and tin whistle and sang in a deep baritone, came to international prominence as a member of The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem.

Makem was born in Keady, Co Armagh, in 1932. During the 1960s, he gained international fame with the Clancy Brothers, performing sellout concerts in Carnegie Hall and being feted at the Newport Folk Festival.

Makem left the group in 1969 to pursue a solo career. He joined Liam Clancy in 1975 to perform as Makem and Clancy and went solo again in 1988.

His best-known songs include Four Green Fields, Red Is The Roseand The Bard of Armagh.

He died in Dover, New Hampshire last night.

Liam Clancy said today Makem was "a great fighter" who had battled lung cancer for a year. "We shared a great hulk of our lives together, and we were a hell of a team," he said.

"Tommy was a man of high integrity and honesty and his courage really showed through towards the end," he told RTÉ's Morning Irelandtoday. "Our paths diverged many times, but our friendship never waned. I suppose he was my brother in every way.

"I think what Tommy's greatest strength was he was an entertainer He just had the knack of making an audience laugh or cry . . . holding them in his hands."

Makem visited Belfast last month to receive an honorary degree from the University of Ulster despite his illness and also took time to return to Armagh.

He also received doctorate degrees from the University of New Hampshire in 1998 and from the University of Limerick in 2001.

President Mary McAleese offered her condolences to Mr Makem's family.

"In life, Tommy brought happiness and joy to hundreds of thousands of fans the world over," she said. "Always the consummate musician, he was also a superb ambassador for the country, and one of whom we will always be proud."

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism Seamus Brennan said he had learned of Mr Makem's death "with great regret".

"He was a multi-talented artist whose abilities went beyond music, with other skills as a storyteller, actor, songwriter and poet. I wish to pass on my condolences to Tommy's family, relatives and friends at this sad time and hope that they can take comfort from the fact that his music is a wonderful legacy that will live on for generations to come," he said.

"Tommy was truly a music legend in his own lifetime. Now, with his passing, he has left behind a rich and enduring legacy of music, song and story to be enjoyed and appreciated by this generation and generations to come."