Clancy's legacy secured
LIAM CLANCY once said about his life that “serendipitous things kept happening”. Clancy’s journey from Carrick-on-Suir to the place he called “the island for people escaped from repressed backgrounds”, Greenwich village in New York, and into the limelight of that watershed appearance on the Ed Sullivan television show in the 1960s is indeed a remarkable story.
Finding himself in the vanguard of the folk revival — on both sides of the Atlantic — was the epitome of good fortune. Clancy, side by side with his brothers and Tommy Makem, was to the forefront in first claiming for Ireland’s folk tradition much of the international popularity it enjoys today.
The scale of their devoted following was a notable achievement, especially in the music environment of the Sixties and those heady days of the Beatles and Rolling Stones. It might be difficult today for a younger generation to imagine how four Irish balladeers wearing Aran sweaters as their trademark could become such a phenomenon.
That this all happened at a time when Irish-America was digging for its roots was undoubtedly fortuitous — and certainly they knew how to play to the more dewy-eyed wing of that audience with its endless capacity for sentimental ballads and songs of Irish rebellion. It was, however, a seminal moment, setting the scene for the new era of Ireland’s success as an exporter of its musical and cultural heritage.
Anyone who has seen Alan Gilsenan’s marvelous and revelatory documentaries on Liam Clancy, or read the singer’s memoir, will recognise how those serendipities he spoke of conspired to make a life that truly became the stuff of legend. The status of legend was further conferred when Bob Dylan — some of whose early songs were written to melodies “borrowed” from the Clancys — described him as the best ballad singer he had ever heard.
But talent, musicianship and the ability to connect with an audience played an even more significant part in securing the legacy he leaves behind him — the gift of a distinctive voice was complemented by the sense of theatricality he could instill into a song. His early experiences as an actor contributed to this quality in performances that enthralled audiences.
His feeling, too, for the poetry of many of the songs in his repertoire was always palpable — and perhaps never more so than in his rendition of The Parting Glass, the ballad with which he sent audiences out into the night.