Tommy Makem Dies

Acclaimed Irish singer, songwriter and storyteller Tommy Makem has died of cancer, ending a worldwide entertainment career that spanned more than five decades. He was 74.

Makem died Wednesday at a nursing home near his home in Dover, surrounded by family and friends, his son, Conor Makem, said Thursday.

Makem grew to international fame while performing with the band The Clancy Brothers And Tommy Makem in the late 1950s and 1960s.

President Mary McAleese of Ireland led the tributes, saying Makem brought happiness and joy to fans all over the world.

“Always the consummate musician, he was also a superb ambassador for the country, and one of whom we will always be proud,” McAleese said.

Liam Clancy also remembered his life-long music partner.

“Tommy was a man of high integrity, honesty, and his courage really shone through towards the end,” he told RTE Radio in Dublin, Ireland.

Clancy and Makem teamed up after emigrating to the United States from Ireland in the late 1950s where they began careers in acting, before turning to music.

Armed with his banjo, tinwhistle, poetry, stagecraft and his baritone voice, Makem helped spread stories and songs of Irish culture around the world.

“He just had the knack of making an audience laugh or cry… holding them in his hands,” Clancy said.

In New Hampshire, Makem performed at the Statehouse this year for Gov. John Lynch’s inaugural celebration.

“It was known that he was not well, yet he played with typical passion and wit, evoking tears of joy and sadness from those assembled,” Lynch said on Thursday.

He called Makem a state, national and international treasure.

“With a strong voice and even stronger spirit, Tommy inspired millions,” Lynch said.

An ailing Makem visited Belfast last month to receive an honorary degree from the University of Ulster and returned to his native Armagh.

Son Conor, accompanied Makem on the trip.

“He had very much wanted to get over there,” Makem said. “I think he knew it might have been his last time over.”

Conor Makem said his dad basically held court in a hotel.

“Friend and relatives came to visit him and I think he had time of his life visiting with people,” he said.

Makem was best known for songs such as The Green Fields of France, Gentle Annie and Red is the Rose.

He brought audiences to tears with perhaps his signature tune, “Four Green Fields,” a 1967 folk song about a woman whose sons died trying to prevent strangers from taking her four green fields.

With the Clancy Brothers, he appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, the Tonight Show and on every major television network show in the United States, and they soon became the four most famous Irishmen in the world, according to a biography on his web site.

They played to audiences from New York’s Carnegie Hall and London’s Royal Albert Hall to every major concert venue in the English-speaking world.

Even while battling cancer, Makem was maintaining a performance schedule, with gigs listed through this fall.

His final performance, Conor Makem said, was last spring at a Gaelic festival in Chicago.

“He had touble finishing, so I think he did just a few songs in one set,” he said.

His web site reported that Makem once was asked if he planned to retire.

“Yes, of course,” he said. “I retire every night and in the morning when I awake I realize just how lucky and privileged I am to be able to continue doing the things I love to do.”