In 1961, The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem started to take America by storm after a successful appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.
They then came to the attention of an Irish radio presenter called Ciaran MacMathuna as he was travelling in America in 1962.
When he got back home, he started playing their records on his radio show and they were again, an “instant” success. People were curious about this bunch of singers who had conquered America.
Back home in triumph to Ireland
Buoyed by their growing popularity, the band returned in triumph to Ireland in 1963.
They had left as unknown actors and returned as famous singers.
They played to sell-out audiences all over Ireland, including the Olympia Theatre in Dublin where the demand was so great that people who couldn’t get tickets hung around outside trying to get a glimpse of these new Irish heroes.
Eventually, the band sang a song from the theatre window as a thank you gesture to those who waited outside.
Creating a feelgood factor about being Irish
Irish audiences didn’t just like The Clancys music and their style, they liked the fact that they had made Irish traditional music popular in America.
After so many years of struggling against poverty and of seeing so many of Ireland’s young people forced to emigrate, the success of The Clancys created a feelgood factor about being Irish.
There was suddenly a new sense of pride and confidence in Ireland and its musical heritage.
The most famous four Irishmen in the world
The band’s success in America and Ireland was quickly followed by sell-out concerts in the UK, Canada and Australia. In 1963, they did a television appearance in the White House in front of President Kennedy.
Such was their success that they were once described by Ireland’s foremost chat show host, Gay Byrne, as being “the most famous four Irishmen in the world”.
The band continued to have great success throughout the sixties with regular sell-out concert tours and successful album releases.
The departure of Tommy Makem
As the 1960s came to a close, however, there was a sense that there was little left to achieve and some of the band were getting restless.
Tommy Makem in particular wanted to move in a new direction, both as a performer and as a songwriter.
He gave the band a year’s notice that he was leaving and they parted amicably in 1969. It was to mark the beginning of the end of the band as a major force.
They continued and reformed with different line-ups but never really achieved the same level of success again.