Willie Clancy (24 December 1918 – 24 January 1973) was an Irish uilleann piper.
Clancy was born into a musical family in Miltown Malbay, County Clare. His parents both sang and played concertina, and his father also played the flute. Clancy’s father had been heavily influenced by local blind piper Garret Barry (d. 1900).
Clancy married Dóirín Healy in 1962. The Willie Clancy Summer School was estab-lished in his honour in 1973. It is held in Miltown Malbay in County Clare.
Willie Clancy possessed amazing talents -whistle player, flute player, singer , story teller, philosopher and wit. He was particularly known for his mastery of that most complex of wind instruments – the Uilleann Pipes.
Born on Christmas Eve, 1918, Willie grew up in an atmosphere of music, singing and storytelling. Both his parents, Ellen and Gilbert, sang and played instruments. Willie started playing the whistle at age 5, and later took up the flute. He first saw a set of pipes in 1936 when he saw Johnny Doran playing locally. He obtained his first set of pipes two years later. His influences included Leo Rowsome, Séamus Ennis, John Potts, and Andy Conroy. Clancy won the Oireachtas competition in 1947.
He was greatly influenced by his grandmother, by his father and by Garrett Barry, the legendary blind piper from Inagh. Garrett Barry died in the workhouse in Ennistymon at the close of the nineteenth century. His piping style was passed on to Willie by his father Gilbert. Willie was aware that Garrett Barry possessed a heritage of music unique to himself. The music of Garrett Barry is known and cherished today because of Willies determination to pass on this treasure.
Willie was seventeen years old when he encountered the great travelling piper, Johnny Doran. By the early Forties Willie had mastered the basic piping techniques and in 1947 he won first prize at the Oireachtas competition.
Unfortunately, he could not make a living from his music and he was forced to emigrate to London, where he worked as a carpenter. While there, he continued with his music and made contact with other notable players, including Seamus Ennis. With the death of his father in 1957, he returned to Miltown Malbay and married Doirin Healy. He developed a highly distinctive and individual style of piping. From 1957 until 1972 the Summer music sessions in the West Clare town became widely renowned, with Willie Clancy as one of the main attractions. Pipe-making, reed-making and all things connected with the instrument were explored and advanced by the Clancy influence. He gave many performances on both radio and television as well as live sessions in his local area.
His sudden death in January 1973 at the age of fifty-five was widely mourned among friends and musicians alike. He is buried in Ballard Cemetary just outside the town of Miltown Malbay .
As a tribute to this extraordinary man and gifted musician, it was decided to set up an annual Summer music school in Willies home town. The school quickly established a name for good music and high standards in tuition, a fitting tribute to a fine musician.