06 August 2007

Raising a parting glass to Tommy Makem

One of my early heroes died the other day, you may or may not have heard of him. His name was Tommy Makem, formerly half of an Irish folk singing duo, Makem & Clancy. Growing up I learned more about my heritage and history through their songs and stories than I ever learned at school. To me they were the heart and soul and essence of what it meant to be Irish, and to them I owe my first sense of pride in being Irish.

I met them briefly, saw them perform live several times, both together and in later years individually, after they split to pursue solo careers. Each came from large musical families - and now their sons and daughters are carrying on the tradition.

Although diagnosed with advanced lung cancer last year, Tommy decided to carry on with his tour as planned rather than disappoint people - and I think in doing so he gave himself and his fans an opportunity to say goodbye in a real sense. Unfortunately I didn't get to any of the final dates, by the time news had reached me, most had already taken place.

And while the news of his passing didn't come as a shock, it brought with it a greater sense of loss than I had expected. As if I'd lost a favourite uncle, my childhood and my country in the same moment. While he has passed on his talent and passion for music to his children and they continue to perform, it's different. As if an era has ended and the future is uncertain. Normally I'd call that sentimental tosh, but that's how it feels just now.

In tribute I'd like to share one of his songs, a haunting piece with a superb melody that seems oddly appropriate and somehow comforting at the moment. To listen, click play on the Smilebox below.
Parting Glass
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Slan abhaile, Tommy.

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