The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem

The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem

The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem were the first Irish singers to achieve international fame during the folk revival of the 1960s.

The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem

Early Success
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How ironic then that they never actually set about to be singers at all – well, not The Clancy Brothers anyway.

And to add to the irony, although they came to epitomise Irish music for many people, they first found success in the United States and only became well known in Ireland once they had made it on American television.

Chasing the American dream – from Ireland to USA

The Clancy Brothers were born in Carrick-on-Suir in Tipperary where their father ran a successful insurance business. That was never going to satisfy the brothers, however, who all harboured ambitions to become actors.

Paddy, the eldest brother, was born in 1922. Tom was born in 1924. They both served in the British RAF during World War 2 but after being demobbed, they decided to emigrate to Canada.

They arrived in Toronto in 1947 and, after working at whatever odd jobs they could find to pay their way, they set off two years later to seek their fortune as actors in Hollywood.

New York and working on Broadway

As they worked to pay their way, the two brothers stopped off for a while in New York where they managed to get some small parts on Broadway and where they also appeared in television productions.

They couldn’t find enough acting work to keep them fully occupied so they set up their own theatre company called Trio Productions in the New York suburb of Greeenwich Village, which at that time had become a haven for artists, actors and musicians.

Soon it was to become the cradle for the burgeoning folk music revival.

Singing was intended to subsidise their acting careers

As folk singers from all over America started to converge on Greenwich, The Clancys realised that the old songs they had learnt as children back home in Tipperary had suddenly became a valuable commodity.

They realised they could earn extra cash to subsidise their acting careers by staging impromptu concerts for the growing folk audiences.

Meanwhile, their younger brother Bobby, born in 1927, joined them in New York. The three of them became the first incarnation of what was to become the world famous band, The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem.

Bobby swaps places with younger brother Liam

Liam Clancy (photo by Junction Festival)
Liam Clancy

Bobby decided to return to Ireland in 1955 to run the Robert J Clancy insurance business which had been set up by his father.

The Clancy’s youngest brother Liam, who was only 20 at the time, had been helping to run the insurance business.

However, Bobby’s return meant he was able to leave and follow his older brothers to America so that he too could try to make it as an actor.

The final piece of the jigsaw arrives

The three Clancys were now settled in New York and performing regularly around Greenwich. The final piece of the jigsaw was put into place when Tommy Makem decided that he too would emigrate to the United States.

Makem was from County Armagh but had known Liam Clancy because of their joint interest in music while back in Ireland. He too gravitated to Greenwich and met up with Liam and the other two brothers. Soon they were all performing in ad hoc concerts and success was just around the corner.

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The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem videos