Tommy Makem split with the Clancy Brothers in 1969 to pursue a solo career.
He released several albums and continued to play to large audiences in prestigious venues.
As a solo artist he sold out New York’s Madison Square Gardens and Sydney Opera House.
In 1975, he teamed up with Liam Clancy again. It happened that they were both booked to play at the same folk festival. The organisers asked them to play a set together.
They did and ended up recording and performing as a duo for many years.
They recorded several albums and toured around the world. They also appeared on several TV shows in Ireland and Canada.
They were famous for their sense of humour and banter with the audience. Once Makem saw a fan having a particularly good time and asked him what he was smoking.
He then told the fan to share it around so they could all have as much fun.
Solo career and setting up his own music venue
In 1988, he split with Clancy to continue his solo career. He was principal of Tommy Makem’s Irish Pavilion, which was a music venue in New York. In the 1990s he would often perform as a solo artist and with Liam Clancy. The venue was also host to musicians such as Paddy Reilly, Joe Burke and Ronnie Gilbert.
Bob Dylan went there to host a party celebrating his first 30 years as a recording artist.
In 1999, Makem performed at the Guinness Fleadh festival in Boston and was given rave reviews. Neil Strauss of the New York Times said: “Perhaps the highlight of the Guinness Fleadh on Saturday on Randalls Island came at midday on one of the festival’s smaller stages. There, backed only by an acoustic guitar, Tommy Makem bellowed a stentorian “Four Green Fields”, the hallowed Irish leave-us-alone-with-our-beauty ballad he wrote in 1967, as the audience members pumped their hands in the air and sang in spellbound unison.”
Makem was given a lifetime achievement award by the World Folk Music Association in 1999. The following year, he set up the Tommy Makem Festival of Song in his home county of Armagh.
Death from lung cancer
Makem died in 2007 after a brave fight against lung cancer. He was buried next to his wife in Dover, New Hampshire. Liam Clancy paid tribute to him saying: “He was my brother in every way.”
There is a bridge in Washington that goes over the Cocheco River that was renamed the Tommy and Mary Makem Memorial Bridge in 2010.
Makem will be remembered as one of the major figures of Irish traditional music in the 20th century.