He was best known as a member of The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. He played the long-necked 5-string banjo, tin whistle, low whistle, guitar, bodhrán and bagpipes, and sang in a distinctive baritone. He was sometimes known as “The Bard of Armagh” (taken from a traditional song of the same name) and “The Godfather of Irish Music”.
Makem was born and raised in Keady, Co Armagh (the “Hub of the Universe” as Makem always said), in the north of Ireland.
Makem died in Dover, New Hampshire on 1 August 2007, following a lengthy battle with lung cancer. He continued to record and perform until very close to the end. Paying tribute to him after his death, Liam Clancy said, “He was my brother in every way.”
‘Requiem for the Croppies’
The pockets of our greatcoats full of barley…
No kitchens on the run, no striking camp…
We moved quick and sudden in our own country.
The priest lay behind ditches with the tramp.
A people hardly marching… on the hike…
We found new tactics happening each day:
We’d cut through reins and rider with the pike
And stampede cattle into infantry,
Then retreat through hedges where cavalry must be thrown.
Until… on Vinegar Hill… the final conclave.
Terraced thousands died, shaking scythes at cannon.
The hillside blushed, soaked in our broken wave.
They buried us without shroud or coffin
And in August… the barley grew up out of our grave.
‘Four Green Fields’
(Tommy Makem/’The Bard of Armagh’)
What did I have, said the fine old woman
What did I have, this proud old woman did say
I had four green fields, each one was a jewel
But strangers came and tried to take them from me
I had fine strong sons, who fought to save my jewels
They fought and they died, and that was my grief said she
Long time ago, said the fine old woman
Long time ago, this proud old woman did say
There was war and death, plundering and pillage
My children starved, by mountain, valley and sea
And their wailing cries, they shook the very heavens
My four green fields ran red with their blood, said she
What have I now, said the fine old woman
What have I now, this proud old woman did say
I have four green fields, one of them’s in bondage
In stranger’s hands, that tried to take it from me
But my sons had sons, as brave as were their fathers
My fourth green field will bloom once again said she
Photo: Liam Clancy and Tommy Makem, on the roof of the Europa Hotel in Belfast, early 1980s