It would be hard to over-estimate the importance of The Clancys and Tommy Makem, both to Irish folk music and to the folk music revival in general.
They left Ireland for America with a bunch of songs which most Irish people had known since childhood and considered old fashioned and passé.
When The Clancys returned to Ireland in 1963, those same tired old songs seemed to have a new life and zest which would have seemed inconceivable a few years earlier.
Instead of seeming old fashioned and tired, those songs seemed to be the embodiment of Ireland’s cultural heritage and people couldn’t get enough of them.
The Clancys created a market for Irish folk music
The Clancys made Irish folk music fashionable again.
They created a new market for old songs and in doing so they paved the way for numerous other singers and bands to forge a career.
The Dubliners appeared with The Clancys on the Gay Byrne show in Ireland in 1984.
Lead singer Ronnie Drew was generous in describing how influential The Clancys were in those early days of the folk revival of the 1960s.
People avoiding Dubliners concerts in their thousands
Drew described how he was performing at the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin in the early 1960s for £6 a week.
He admitted that he felt jealous of The Clancys who were earning far more for singing the same songs. He recalled going down to see them in Carrick-on-Suir and being amazed at the crowds they were drawing.
He joked that in contrast, audiences were “staying away from Dubliners’ concerts in their thousands”
Soon The Dubliners were also drawing huge audiences. They were, of course, consummate performers themselves but it is also true that they benefited from being able to exploit a market that The Clancys more than anyone else had helped to create.
Their influence spread way beyond Ireland
The Clancys were also an important influence on the young Bob Dylan and countless other performers across the world.
The Scottish band The Corries acknowledged their debt to The Clancys for opening a door and enabling other bands to follow along behind them.
The Clancys had shown that it was possible to be successful playing traditional material and in doing so they enabled a whole new generation of musicians to carve out a career for themselves.