Liam Clancy and his brothers Tom and Paddy were together in New York in the early 1960s.
They were working as actors in off Broadway shows, particularly in productions of Irish plays like Playboy of the Western World.
Parts were hard to come by and they paid very little so the brothers supplemented their income by singing Irish songs in local bars such as the Fifth Peg night club.
Meanwhile, Tommy Makem was working in a factory in Chicago. He crushed his hand in an accident and was laid off. He came down to visit Liam in New York and soon joined the brothers on stage for their musical performances.
What’s in a name for Clancys and Makem?
They became very popular. When they couldn’t think of a name, their manager lost patience when the deadline approached for advertising one of their shows. He simply wrote on the poster: The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem.
The name stuck. The older brothers Tom and Paddy were the main focal point at first but Liam and Tommy soon established themselves as equals in the group.
Liam provided vocals and played guitar. The group went on tour across Ireland and America and gained a large following in New York, Chicago and Boston.
The Clancy’s mother sent them some woolly jumpers as she was worried they would be too cold while on the road. They wore them on stage and the tops became a trademark for the band even though they were always far too hot when they were performing.
The Ed Sullivan Show
The group got their big break in the States when they appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1961. The main musical act weren’t able to make it so the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem ended up filling in for them. It meant that their set was 16 minutes rather than just two songs.
It worked wonders in raising their profile in America and soon they were playing in the most famous venues in the world including New York’s Carnegie Hall and London’s Royal Albert Hall. They recorded several albums in the 1960s and Liam became good friends with Bob Dylan when Dylan was dating the sister of his girlfriend.
The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem became one of the dominant forces in the folk music scene in the 1960s. They were once described as the most famous Irishmen in the world. They even got to perform for for US President John F Kennedy.
Despite their success, however, the brothers were still actors at heart. Tom in particular was keen to get back into acting.
The group split up in the early seventies.