Oldest brother Paddy was born March 7, 1922. Tom followed on October 29, 1924, Bobby on May 14, 1927 and youngest brother Liam Clancy was born September 2, 1935.
After serving in World War II, oldest brothers Paddy and Tom emigrated from England to Toronto in 1947 on the S.S. Marine Flasher, along with 400 returning G.I. brides. The only men on board were Paddy, Tom, their friend Pa Casey and a few sailors. Once in Toronto, Paddy and Tom worked various odd jobs before coming to the United States two years later, through the sponsorship of two aunts. Residing for a time in Cleveland, Ohio, the two brothers began to dabble in acting. They decided to move to Hollywood. They didn't get too far, as their car broke down soon after the trip began. They decided to move to New York City instead.
Arriving in Greenwich Village, New York City in 1951, the acting bug really hit. Tom and Paddy both established themselves as successful Broadway actors, appearing in televised performances of their plays. The two brothers established their own production company, Trio Productions. It was here that the singing career began. To help raise money for the company, Paddy and Tom organized 'Midnight Special' concerts every Saturday night. Here they would sing some of the old Irish songs that they knew from their childhood. At this time, younger brother Bobby Clancy, among his many travels of Europe, emigrated to New York City for a time, joining his brothers in Greenwich Village. This was the little-known, first 'unofficial' lineup of a singing group of Clancy brothers.
In 1955, Bobby returned home to Carrick-on-Suir to take over father Robert J. Clancy's insurance business, freeing youngest brother Liam Clancy to emigrate to New York City to pursue his dream of acting. Liam arrived in New York in January 1956.
A month earlier, Tommy Makem emigrated to the United States from his hometown of Keady, County Armagh in Northern Ireland. Tommy Makem, born November 4, 1932, had met Liam Clancy months before they both emigrated. Diane Hamilton, friend of Paddy Clancy in New York, followed in the footsteps of her mentor, Jean Ritchie, came to Ireland in search of rare Irish songs. Knowing Paddy Clancy, her first stop was at the Clancy household, where she recorded several members of the family, including the Clancys' mother, sister Peg and Joan, and nineteen-year-old Liam Clancy. Hamilton asked Liam and recently returned Bobby Clancy to join her on a trek through Ireland to locate and record source singers.
One of those source singers was Sarah Makem who had been recorded by Jean Ritchie in 1952 on a similar search of Irish song. Her son Tommy Makem, then twenty-two, and the young Liam Clancy instantly became friends. Said Liam, "Our interests were so similar: girls, theater and music. He had told me he was going to America to try his luck at acting. We agreed to keep in touch." Tommy was recorded for the first time by Hamilton in that autumn of 1955, including "The Cobbler."
In March 1956, Tommy Makem was out of work; he had landed himself in Dover, New Hampshire, to where many of his family members had emigrated, working in the mills. A two-ton iron printing press fell on Tommy's hand, crushing it. His hand in a sling, and knowing the Clancy brothers down in New York, he decided that the time was right to make a record. He told this to Paddy Clancy, who had founded a record company, Tradition Records, to release Diane Hamilton's recorded material through. Paddy agreed and brought in brothers Tom and Liam, as well as Tommy Makem, to record an album of Irish rebel songs, The Rising of the Moon.
Little thought was given to continuing as a singing group. They all were busy establishing theatrical careers for themselves, the real reason they were all there. But the album was a local success and requests were often demanded for the brothers and Tommy Makem to sing some of their songs at parties and informal pub settings. Bit by bit, that's how the singing career began. Slowly, the singing gigs began to outweigh the acting gigs and by 1959, serious thought was given to a new album. Three years of knowing each other, instead of two months as had been the case in March 1956 with the original album's recording, paid off. Liam had developed some guitar skills, Tommy's hand had healed enough he was again able to play tin whistle and bagpipes, and the times spent singing together had improved their style together. No longer were they the rough, mostly unaccompanied group of actors singing a couple Irish songs for an album to jumpstart a record label; they were becoming a professional singing group.
The release of their second album, this one of Irish drinking songs called Come Fill Your Glass with Us sealed their fate. The album was a success, and the gigs grew along the pub circuit in New York, Chicago and into Boston. It was at their first official gig after Come Fill Your Glass With Us that the group finally found a name for themselves. The owner begged the guys for a name to put on the marquee, but they had none. Unable to agree on a name (which included suggestions like The Beggermen, the Tinkers and even The Chieftains) the club owner decided for them, simply posting "The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem". The name stuck. The guys decided to try this singing thing fulltime for six months, just singing, no theater work. If singing turned successful, they'd stick with it; if not, then back to acting. The Clancy brothers and Tommy Makem proved successful after all and in early 1961, they attracted the attention of scouts from The Ed Sullivan Show.
Just before landing a spot on Ed Sullivan, by chance the Clancys' mother sent four white Irish-knit Aran sweaters (knitted by her sister Peggy Quan) so that they wouldn't catch their cold in the winters of North America. Their manager Marty Erlichman desperately seeking a way to "package" his clients found exactly what he was looking for when he saw the three brothers and Tommy Makem wearing the sweaters. The sweaters became the Clancy brothers' and Tommy Makem's trademark.
On March 12, 1961, the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem performed for 14 groundbreaking minutes in front of a televised audience of 80 million people on The Ed Sullivan Show. The televised performance instantly attracted the attention of John Hammond of Columbia Records. The guys were offered a five year contract with an advance of $100,000, a huge sum in 1961. For their first album with Columbia, the now nationwide stars in the Clancy brothers and Tommy Makem enlisted Pete Seeger as backup banjo player for the live album A Spontaneous Performance Recording It included songs that would soon become classics, such as "Brennan on the Moor," "Jug of Punch," "Reilly's Daughter," "Finnegan's Wake," "Haul Away Joe," "Roddy McCorley," "Portlairge" and "Moonshiner." The album was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1961.
By the end of 1961, they had released two more albums, one final one with Tradition Records, and another with Columbia, Hearty and Hellish: A Live Nightclub Performance, and they were playing Carnegie Hall. Additionally, they were making appearances on every major radio and television talkshow in America.
1962 proved to be an even better year. Ciarán MacMathuna, a popular radio personality in Ireland, was visiting America when he heard of the group. He collected the few albums they had out at the time, brought them back home to Ireland and played them on his radio show. The broadcasts skyrocketed the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem to fame in Ireland, where they were still unknown. Nobody had ever sung these Irish songs with such gusto. In Ireland, songs like "Roddy McCorley," "Kevin Barry" and "Brennan on the Moor" were slow, depressing songs full of melancholy. But the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem had completely transformed those songs (the disgruntled purists in Ireland said "commercialized") and made them lively. For generations the songs had been a reminder of the troubles in Ireland and therefore they weren't anything anybody sang proudly. The Clancy Brothers changed all that, and the transformed songs reinvigorated Ireland's pride in her music. The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem were brought over for a sold-out tour of Ireland in late 1962. Popularity in England and other parts of Europe soon followed, as well as Australia and Canada. By 1963, appearing on every major talkshow in America, Canada, England, Australia and Ireland, as well as their own TV specials, the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem were "the most famous four Irishmen in the world" as said by Ireland's Late Late Show host, Gay Byrne, in a retrospective interview in 1984. In 1964, one third of all the albums sold in Ireland were Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem records.
The 1960s continued to be a successful decade with the release of approximately two albums per year, all which sold millions of copies. They continued to peak with television appearances in front of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.
Their popularity is the result of several factors. There was already an American folk revival beginning in the United States, and men such as Ewan MacColl popularizing old songs on the other side of the Atlantic. But it was the Clancys' boisterous performances that set them apart, taking placid classics and giving them a boost of energy and spirit (not that they took this approach with all their songs; they would still sing the true mournful ballads with due reverence).
But by the late 1960s, rock music had taken full swing, and the ballad and folk boom was waning. To keep the Clancys at the top, Teo Macero began producing their records for Columbia. Macero introduced many new instrumentations to the Clancys music, the among them Louis Killen coming in to play concertina on backup, especially on their 1968 album of sea songs, Sing of the Sea. But their last three albums for Columbia Record in 1969 and 1970 are considered by many to be overproduced, with a multitude of string instruments and synthesizers added the simpler traditional Clancy mix of guitar, banjo, tin whistle and harmonica.
In 1969, the group recorded a song for a two-minute-long TV ad for Gulf Oil: "Bringin' Home the Oil". They adapted a traditional Scottish tune they had recorded, "The Gallant Forty Twa," with new words singing about large-capacity supertankers. The song and commercial featured the then-largest supertanker in the world, the Universe Ireland, which operated with sister ships Universe Kuwait, Universe Japan and Universe Portugal, all mentioned in the song and which operated from the seaport at Bantry Bay.
Other changes in 1969 included the amicable departure of Tommy Makem from the group. Giving them a year's notice, Makem left in April 1969 to pursue a solo career with such recent compositions as "Four Green Fields", debuted on 1968's Clancy Brothers album, Home Boys Home.
The "other brother", Bobby Clancy filled Tommy Makem's vacancy. Also, two of the Furey Brothers joined the now-four Clancy Brothers at this time. The six-piece band recorded two new albums in the summer of 1969: Clancy Brothers Christmas, released later that year, and Flowers in the Valley, released in 1970. The latter was their final album for Columbia Records.
Later that year, the Furey Brothers left the lineup and for a short time, it was just the four brothers, Paddy, Tom, Bobby and Liam Clancy. This lineup recorded only one album together, 1970's Welcome to Our House under their new label, Audio Fidelity Records. Later that same year, Liam and Bobby got into an argument which resulted in Bobby quitting the group.
In 1971, the trio brought in the man who had introduced concertina to the music mix, Louis Killen. They recorded two studio albums under the Audio Fidelity label: Save the Land and Show Me the Way. Their next, and final, album for Audio Fidelity was a live album, Live on St. Patrick's Day in 1973.
But the early 1970s, the Clancys were growing tired of touring and singing as a group. After one more album with Vanguard Records, Clancy Brothers and Lou Killen's Greatest Hits as well as a TV special for Brockton television in 1974 (in which Bobby Clancy made a surprise special guest appearance with the group) the group disbanded. Tom Clancy had gradually gone back to acting in th early 1970s and it finally paid off; he had a featured role in a major motion picture. Production coincided with a tour of Australia; Tom chose the film role and the group dissolved afterwards.
The dissolution permitted Paddy Clancy to devote his full attention to the dairy farm he had bought with his wife in 1963, while Tom flourished in Hollywood, regularly appearing in movies, TV films and TV shows such as Little House on the Prairie, The Incredible Hulk, Charlie's Angels and Starsky and Hutch. Liam Clancy, suffering financial setbacks in taxes, filed for bankruptcy and moved his family to his in-laws in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The only one to continue singing, Liam's brother-in-law helped him get some concert gigs to get him back on his feet. Liam was introduced to "The Dutchman" at this time, which became a hit. The gigs caught the attention of a TV producer and Liam was signed for thirteen episodes of his own music and talk show. The show was a hit and Liam was signed for thirteen more. On the final episode, old friend Tommy Makem was a guest. This hit episode led to the two of them being signed together for a further collection of episodes.
On Tommy Makem and Liam Clancy's final episode, their guest Archie Fisher wanted to produce an album for the reunited duo. A gig together at the Cleveland Irish Festival in July 1975, where they reportedly received a five minute standing ovation, sealed the deal. Tommy Makem and Liam Clancy recorded a self titled debut album together for release in 1976. A last minute addition in "The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" helped the album soar, as well as ending Liam's financial troubles. The duo called themselves Makem & Clancy.
Makem & Clancy followed up their debut studio album with a live album recorded at the Gaiety Theater in Dublin in July 1977, the double LP The Makem & Clancy Concert. They continued taking Ireland, England, Australia, Canada and America by storm with several television specials and successful follow-up albums.
Meanwhile, after several years break, Paddy, Tom and Bobby Clancy reunited to pick up where they left off as a singing group, but on a part-time basis. Paddy was busy raising his children and working his farm, Tom was at the peak of his acting game in Hollywood, and Bobby ran the family insurance business as well as maintaining his own successful solo career. As a group they did attempt to recruit youngest brother Liam, but he wouldn't have it. He didn't want to be the younger brother anymore. Though all had been an equal factor in the original Clancy Brothers lineups, older brothers Paddy and Tom, thirteen and eleven years Liam's senior respectively, could never quite accept Liam was his own man, and not "the little brother," even when they were all well into their adult years. It was one of the reasons why Liam and Tommy Makem, closer to age in Liam, had grown as close as they had. So with Liam declining the offer to join the brothers, much to Tom's chagrin, the three Clancy brothers recruited their nephew, their sister's son, Robbie O'Connell The lineup, debuting in 1977, became the Clancy Brothers with Robbie O'Connell. Playing two to three months a year, only in America, the Clancy Brothers and Robbie O'Connell continued where they left off in America, still packing Carnegie Hall. Reviews cited Robbie as a fresh addition to the group with his original compositions, the future of the group.
In 1982, the Clancy Brothers with Robbie O'Connell recorded a live album of mostly new material, Clancy Brothers with Robbie O'Connell Live 1982. Nine years after their previous album Clancy Brothers and Lou Killen's Greatest Hits the new album was a fresh offering from a reinvigorated group.
In 1984, Makem & Clancy's manager Maurice Cassidy, brought the original foursome together with prospects of a documentary of the original lineup to be followed by a concert at the Lincoln Center in New York City. Paddy and Tom Clancy took some time out from the Clancy Brothers and Robbie O'Connell, and joined forces with Makem & Clancy. Paddy, Tom, Liam Clancy and Tommy Makem were reunited and production on the documentary commenced after a 90 minute debut on Ireland's Late Late Show on April 28, 1984. Traveling to Keady, Tommy Makem's hometown, Carrick-on-Suir, the Clancys hometown, then New York City in Greenwich Village, a dress rehearsal concert Tommy Makem's Irish Pavilion and finally the big night on May 20, 1984 at the Lincoln Center for the recorded concert, the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem had returned! The Lincoln Center show had sold out within a week, all 3,000 seats, the rowdy audience providing a great participation on the album, released as Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem Reunion. A Reunion Tour of Ireland, England the United States followed in late 1984 and the fall of 1985.
Makem & Clancy returned to recording studio in 1986 to produce their final album, We've Come a Long Way. Not wishing to overstay their welcome, or let their material begin to go stale, the duo amicably broke up after 13 magical years. Both men resumed the solo careers they had begun before reuniting back in 1975.
The Clancy Brothers (Paddy, Tom and Bobby) with Robbie O'Connell recorded a new live album at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, Tunes and Tales of Ireland. Even Bobby Clancy called this album "crap," and Paddy referred to it as "not our best effort." Regardless, the album is valuable, for it is Tom Clancy's final record.
In May 1990, Tom Clancy was diagnosed with stomach cancer. When Tom went into surgery to save his life later in the summer, brother Liam stepped in Tom's place and joined his brothers and nephew on their tour in August. The surgery proved unsuccessful, and Tom Clancy died at the age of 66. Tom also left behind one son and five daughters, one daughter and his only son from his first marriage, one from his second marriage, and three with his third, the youngest daughter was two years old when he passed.
With the death of Tom, Liam stepped in full time with his brothers. This lineup experienced a more active time than the previous decade, with appearances on Regis and Kathie Lee in 1991, 1993 and 1995, an appearance on a 30th Anniversary Bob Dylan concert in 1992, seen by 200 million people worldwide, and the formation of Irish Festival Cruises in 1991, an annual cruise of the Caribbean. The guys also brought their own tour groups to Ireland, which Robbie O'Connell continues to do to this day.
The Bob Dylan Concert inspired the recording of the first studio album by the Clancy Brothers in over 20 years, since 1973's Greatest Hits. Older But No Wiser, introducing 12 new songs, with the exception of When the Ship Comes In, was released in late 1995. It was the first and only album to feature the lineup of Paddy, Bobby, Liam Clancy and Robbie O'Connell.
The Irish Festival Cruises had led to financial disputes between the group, Paddy and Liam especially. Liam decided to leave the group. Robbie O'Connell, now with the group for nineteen years, was ready for a change as well. The two departed the Clancy Brothers together and formed their own duo, simply Liam Clancy and Robbie O'Connell. Before splitting, the Clancy brothers and Robbie O'Connell gave a Farewell Tour of both Ireland and America in February and March 1996. The Irish tour in February was filmed near the Clancys' hometown, televised and later released to video and DVD as The Clancy Brothers and Robbie O'Connell: Farewell to Ireland. On both the album Older But No Wiser and the concert video Farewell to Ireland, two sons of two of the Clancy Brothers made their debut. Donal Clancy, Liam's youngest son played backup on the studio album while Bobby's son Finbarr Clancy played backup on the Farewell video. Bobby was beginning to ail at this time and Finbarr was brought on, in part, to aid his father for this concert video. Finbarr did not join them for the American tour.
After the breakup Paddy and Bobby continued touring as the Clancy Brothers, with Bobby's son Finbarr Clancy becoming an official member of the group. The trio added longtime friend of Bobby's daughter Aoife, Eddie Dillon, to the group for a thirteen city engagement in early 1997. The quartet was known as the Clancy Brothers and Eddie Dillon. Eddie Dillon, a Boston based musician, is the only American ever to perform with the Clancy Brothers.
Liam Clancy and Robbie O'Connell toured for a while as a duo, but very soon added Liam's son Donal Clancy to the mix, forming the trio Clancy, O'Connell & Clancy. The trio released two albums, a self-titled debut album in 1997 and an album of sea songs in 1998, The Wild and Wasteful Ocean. Robbie O'Connell regards the self-titled Clancy, O'Connell and Clancy album as his most favorite work. In 1999, with Liam in Ireland, Robbie in Massachusetts and Donal in New York, the trio decided to call it quits as a full time group. They did say they would occasionally regroup for concerts, which they have, seldom as it is. Officially, Liam Clancy and Robbie O'Connell perform as solo musicians now.
The other group members, as far back as 1996 when Liam and Robbie were still in the mix, had noticed aging Paddy Clancy's unusual mood swings. In the spring of 1998 the cause was finally detected - Paddy had a brain tumor as well as lung cancer. He wasn't told of the lung cancer so as not to discourage him when he went for a brain operation. The brain tumor was removed successfully, but lung cancer was terminal. Paddy was told of the other ailment which he accepted "with great bravery and courage," said his wife Mary Clancy. Paddy Clancy died in the morning hours of November 11, 1998. Two weeks before he died, knowing Paddy didn't have long, Bobby called Liam and Paddy together to reconcile their differences - Paddy and Liam had been at odds for two years since the breakup over the Irish Cruises. But the two brothers did reconcile and the three brothers sang together that night at an informal session at their local pub. Liam, Robbie and Donal took time out of their November tour of the US to go to attend Paddy's funeral. Old partner Tommy Makem also attended.
Bobby, Finbarr and Eddie Dillon resumed touring as a trio, The Clancys and Eddie Dillon. The trio recorded a live album in October 1998, Clancy Sing-a-Long Songs and one in March 2001 during Bobby's last tour. In 1999 Bobby had been diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis a lung ailment. During his last years Bobby was unable to stand and perform at the same time because he would quickly run out of breath, so the trio would perform a sitdown concert. Bobby became more frail in his last two years, often becoming confused and forgetful during the concerts. Finbarr and Eddie regularly covered for him, but Bobby pressed on, continuing to do what he loved doing most.
In 2000, the Milwaukee Irish Festival had its 20th anniversary and in celebration, they had the entire performing Clancy Family sing together on one stage. This once in lifetime lineup included Robbie O'Connell, Donal, Liam, Bobby, Finbarr, Aoife Clancy and Eddie Dillon. These festival sets, August 18, 19 and 20, 2000 were the last times the Clancy Brothers (Bobby and Liam) appeared onstage together.
By March 2002, Bobby's pulmonary fibrosis had advanced so that he was unable to perform, necessitating in Finbarr and Eddie performing as a duo for the short March 2002 short tour. He made one final appearance on an American CBS TV spot promoting Liam's February 2002 autobiography, The Mountain of the Women: Memoirs of an Irish Troubadour. On September 6, 2002, Bobby Clancy died at the age of seventy-five. He was survived by three daughters, one son, his wife Moira and several grandchildren.
The last surviving member of the Clancy Brothers, Liam Clancy, continues to tour solo, as well as write. In 2002, through Doubleday, Liam published the first part of his memoirs, Mountain of the Women: Memoirs of an Irish Troubadour. Liam enjoyed a bit of a resurgence on TV spots promoting the memoirs on American TV and Irish TV. Taking some time off from touring, Liam came back in full force in 2005 with his tour "Seventy Years On." Liam turned 70 in September 2005 and sang with an Irish Legends act at the Gaiety Theater in Dublin in August 2005, with Ronnie Drew and Paddy Reilly.
In March 2006, fifty years after the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem recorded their debut album, The Rising of the Moon in March 1956, the first full-length biography on the Clancy Brothers was written and published by Conor Murray. The book, titled The Clancy Brothers with Tommy Makem & Robbie O'Connell: The Men Behind the Sweaters chronicles the Clancy Brothers from the birth of Paddy Clancy in 1922 to early 2006. Simultaneously a two hour documentary on Liam Clancy was aired on Irish television, The Legend of Liam Clancy, as was a new TV concert special from Tommy Makem and his sons, the five-piece Irish folk song group The Makem & Spain Brothers.
Through 2005 to the present Liam has been joined once again by Kevin Evans of Evans and Doherty, both onstage and in the studio. Paul Grant and Kevin play nightly with Liam who continues to record, write and perform worldwide. His latest CD, "Yes, Those Were the Days," was a top selling record in late 2006. A full length feature film of his life is slated to begin filming this year culminating with a filmed concert in New York City. Liam will be appearing with Paul, Kevin, Danú and Karan Casey at the Tonder Festival in Denmark in August 2007.
In August 2007 Tommy Makem died after an extended fight with cancer, leaving Liam the only surviving member of the original group.
*the last two albums were issued on now out of print Shanachie CDs
Audio Fidelity Records
*This was reissued as 'Best of the Vanguard Years' with bonus material from the 1982 Live! album with Bobby Clancy and Robbie O'Connell.
Four Green Fields lyrics chords and video http://unitedireland.tripod.com/id82.html