Celestial reunion of Clancys celebrated In Dungarvan
“THE GREAT band is together again: the music is fierce, and the craic is mighty.” These were the stirring words of Fr Conchúir Ó Ceallaigh, parish priest of Ring, Co Waterford, who yesterday said the funeral Mass for Liam Clancy, the last of the famous Clancy Brothers.
Hundreds of friends, neighbours and admirers of Liam Clancy, who died on Friday aged 74, gathered in the damp chill outside St Mary’s Parish Church in Dungarvan. Mourners packed the church and overflowed into the grounds outside. Just before 12.30, the gates swung open to admit the funeral cortege, headed by the late singer’s wife, Kim. The other chief mourners were sons Eben, Donal and Séan and daughters Siobhán and Fiona.
Musicians Paul Grant and Kevin Evans played the mourners into the church with extracts from a number of tunes Clancy had made famous. For a man who spent much of his life on a stage entertaining thousands, his funeral service was modest, dignified and understated. It began with his simple coffin being ritually covered in a plain white cloth, with a crucifix and the Book of Scriptures placed on top of it.
Fr Ó Ceallaigh welcomed to the altar items symbolising Clancy’s life “that needed no introduction”. One of his trademark caps in cream corduroy was displayed alongside his much-used concertina, a framed photograph of him, and Clancy’s worn blue hardback copy of WB Yeats’ Collected Poems, its spine held together by Sellotape.
Readings were given by his daughters. Prayers of the Faithful included one by Róisín Clancy for the staff of the Bon Secours Hospital in Cork, where he died from pulmonary fibrosis after a long illness.
Fr O’Ceallaigh told the congregation. “The Lord has called a great storyteller home in Liam Clancy.” He also reminded people that “life is too wonderful and mysterious to just get through each day. Liam lived his life in a very honest way. He was no martyred slave to time: he lived to the full all the years he was given.”
His son-in-law Cárthach MacCraith sang moving versions of Ag Chríost An Síoland Ár nAthair. Towards the end of the Mass, his son Donal played the great traditional lament of farewell, Mo Ghile Mear. The congregation first started to hum the tune quietly, and then sang the words ever more loudly until the haunting, cumulative sound gradually filled the church like a huge wave coming in from a far horizon.
At the end of Mass poet Michael Coady, a longtime friend of the musician who is also from Clancy’s home town of Carrick-on-Suir, read Tennyson’s poem Crossing the Bar.
The oration was given by Shay Healy, a friend of the family for the past 45 years. “I think one of the greatest memories I have of Liam is of walking the streets of Thurles with him at the Fleadh Ceoil in 1965,” he told the congregation. “It was like being with someone who was Jesus Christ and the Playboy of the Western World all rolled into one: half the people wanted to touch the hem of his cloak and the other half wanted to buy him a drink.”
Healy grew emotional as he recalled Clancy’s final years. “Looking back on the last couple of years, he had got more frail as he got older. It was hard to imagine that some day he’d be gone. But when he’d be going on stage, those tired old bones and the heavy old head – he left them in the wings ... until the lights dimmed and the crowd had all gone home.” There was a split-second silence when Healy finished, and then a crash of sustained applause.
After Mass, the cortege made the short journey to the New Cemetery in nearby Ring, where Liam Clancy had made his home for many years, and where he was buried as a rainbow flashed briefly above.
Among those in attendance yesterday were Capt Brian Walsh, aide de camp to President McAleese; aide de camp Commdt Michael Treacy, who was representing the Taoiseach; and Martin Cullen, Minister for Arts, Sport, Culture and Tourism.
Musicians Paddy Reilly, Finbar and Eddie Furey, Liam Ó Maonlaí and filmmaker Alan Gilsenan, whose documentary of Clancy, The Yellow Bittern, came out this summer, were also present.