Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
Tommy Makem was an internationally celebrated Irish folk musician, artist, poet and storyteller. He was best known as a member of The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. He played the long-necked 5-string banjo, guitar, tin whistle, and bagpipes, and sang in a distinctive baritone. He was 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). His mother, Sarah Makem, was an important source of traditional Irish music, who was visited and recorded by, among others, Diane Guggenheim Hamilton, Jean Ritchie, Peter Kennedy and Sean O’Boyle. His father, Peter Makem, was a fiddler who also played the bass drum in a local pipe band named “Oliver Plunkett”, after the Roman Catholic martyr of the reign of Charles II of England. His brother and sister were folk musicians also. Young Tommy Makem, from the age of 8, was a member of the St. Patrick’s church choir for 15 years where he sang Gregorian chant and motets. He did not learn to read music but he made it in his “own way”.
During the fall of the Iron Curtain, Makem often proudly told the story that his song “The Winds Are Singing Freedom” had become a sort of folk anthem among Eastern Europeans seeing a new future opening before them. Makem’s best-known songs include “Four Green Fields”, “Gentle Annie”, “The Rambles of Spring”, “The Winds Are Singing Freedom”, “The Town of Ballybay”, “Winds of the Morning”, “Mary Mack”, and “Farewell to Carlingford”.
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.” He is buried next to his wife at New Saint Mary Cemetery in Dover.