Tag Archives: Chieftains



Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh

(Byan-okht-ee nah Fay-leh Pawd-rig ur-iv)

May those who love us,
Love us.
And those who do not love us,
May God turn their hearts.
And if He doesn’t turn their hearts,
May He turn their ankles,
So we’ll know them by their limping.

Irish Songs Of Drinking And Blackguarding

Sung By Patrick Clancy, Tom Clancy, Liam Clancy, Tommy Makem and Jack Keenan


The Clancy Brothers were a group of brothers who, along with longtime companion Tommy Makem, are without a doubt among the most important figures in Irish music history. Still considered as one of the most internationally renowned Irish folk bands and some have even gone so far as to credit them as being among the main inspirations in the American folk revival of the ’50s and ’60s.


Bob Dylan claimed in the early 1960’s

“I’m going to be as big as the Clancy Brothers!”

With the Clancy Brothers dominating The Ed Sullivan Show and performing their sad Irish drinking tales and rebellious stories before thousands of people, Dylan’s declaration at the time seemed bold and impetuous. Its opposite came true, of course: Dylan submerged the Clancys’ pointed and poignant folk ballads into his stew of influences en route to rock ‘n’ roll superstardom while the Clancys peaked around 1964, then slowly drifted into a hodgepodge of break-ups, reunions, and greatest-hits CD collections. But in bringing Irish music into American mainstream culture, the Brothers were key figures in the 1960’s folk revival and helped Ireland rediscover its cultural traditions. Every Irish-music movement since then–from the Chieftains to Sean O’Riada, from Van Morrison to U2, from Enya to the Corrs–owes some of its success to the Clancys.


(Tommy and Liam)

Born in the small Irish market town Carrick-On-Suir, in County Tipperary, Tom and Patrick ‘Paddy’ Clancy were two of eleven children. Their parents, Robert, an insurance broker, and Joan, a housewife, sang Irish folk songs constantly, but neither Tom nor Paddy envisioned a professional music career when they were growing up. They served in both the Irish Republican Army and the Royal Air Force, Pat, a flight engineer in North India and Burma and Tom, an officer in Europe and North Africa. They left Ireland for Canada in 1947 and, after apparently hiding out in the back of a truck, immigrated to the United States three years later. Landing in Cleveland, Ohio, and then Manhattan, the duo pursued show-business careers. In addition to driving taxis and painting houses, they auditioned for acting roles by day and sang by night at clubs and coffeehouses such as the Lion’s Head and the White Horse Tavern. Tom had by far the most successful acting career, landing major Broadway roles and later on going on to appear in television’s Starsky And Hutch, Charlie’s Angels and The Incredible Hulk! Soon they were producing their own plays, at the Cherry Lane Theatre in Greenwich Village, but after three struggling years, they turned to midnight music concerts to pay the bills.

That was the beginning of the Clancy Brothers as they are commonly known. Drawing on their family singing background and their knowledge of Irish drinking ballads and rebellious folk songs, they began to build a small New York City audience. On-stage acting experience also helped. The Clancy’s told funny stories between songs and responded to applause with vaudevillian lines like

“You have very good taste, I must say”.

Soon their younger brother, Liam, and a friend, Tommy Makem, were joining them regularly on stage. Paddy Clancy created his own record label, Tradition, and put out albums of pointed but gentle folk harmonies, including 1956’s The Rising of the Moon, which was recorded around a kitchen table in the Bronx. Liam told CBSNews.com in 2002, promoting his memoir, The Mountain of the Woman.

“The crowds got so wild and they would hoist crates of beer up onto the stage and demand that we drink them. It was a wild and wonderful time… Greenwich Village was an island for people escaped from repressed backgrounds, who had swallowed the directive to be inferior, to know your place, to kowtow to royalty, to hierarchy, and all the other nonsense”

Their timing was impeccable. The Clancys’ Greenwich Village audiences at the time included young folk-music aficionados such as Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, who would later say, in the same article, of Liam Clancy

“For me, I never heard a singer as good as Liam. He was just the best ballad singer I ever heard in my life. Still is, probably. I can’t think of anyone who is a better ballad singer than Liam”

As legend has it, after hearing the Clancys’ version of Dominic Behan’s ‘Patriot Game’, Dylan tinkered with the lyrics and retooled the ballad into his own ‘With God on Our Side’. More than 30 years later, in 1992, the Clancy Brothers would reunite with Makem for Dylan’s recording-anniversary celebration at Madison Square Garden in New York City. They sang ‘When the Ship Comes In’, an Irish ballad Dylan recorded on The Times They Are A-Changing.


(left to right: Tommy Makem, Paddy Clancy, Tom Clancy and Liam Clancy)

Two major events in the Clancys’ career happened in 1961. First, they received a package from their mother as related by Paddy to the irishmusicweb website.

“It was a very cold winter in New York and my mother in Ireland read about the snow and the frost in New York. And her three sons were in America. So she knitted three Aran sweaters and she sent them out. We had a Jewish manager, Marty Erlichman. He saw them and said ‘That’s it. I’ve been looking for some identifiable costume for you. It’s perfect!'”

The thick, roped sweaters became their trademark–especially when, upon signing with Columbia Records, they wore them on the cover of 1961’s A Spontaneous Performance Recording. The second event was The Ed Sullivan Show, the influential television variety show that gave the Beatles their big break three years later. When a scheduled guest became sick, the Clancys sang for 18 minutes on the air. After that, they were international celebrities, playing ‘Fine Girl You Are’, ‘The Holy Ground’ and ‘The Rambler’ at Carnegie Hall and fancy venues everywhere. Dylan, jazz hero Stan Getz, and a promising young singer named Barbra Streisand were among their opening acts. The Clancys went on to record 55 albums and performed for luminaries such as President John F. Kennedy, a fan, at the White House.

As the 1960s wore on, with Dylan and the Beatles steering popular music away from traditional folk ballads and towards electric rock ‘n’ roll, the Clancys’ star power began to dim. They drifted from traditional signatures such as ‘The Old Orange Flute’ and ‘Whiskey Is the Life of Man’ and began writing and producing their own material. Makem left for a solo career in 1970; Liam left five years later. With Liam’s replacement, the Clancys’ youngest brother, Bobby, the group slowly devolved into a nostalgia act. Makem and Liam Clancy sometimes performed as a duet, and they came together on special occasions (including the Dylan thirtieth-anniversary show) in various singing configurations. But they never approached their early 1960’s star power again. Paddy returned to Carrick-on-Suir to raise cattle with his wife on a farm. Tom died in 1990; Paddy died in 1998. Liam and Tommy Makem continued to have successful solo careers before Tommy passed away on 1 August 2007, at the age of 74, after an extended fight with cancer. Two years later Liam died of pulmonary fibrosis, the same ailment that had taken his brother Bobby. He died on 4 December 2009 at the age of 74 in a hospital in Cork, Ireland.

This is the second album from the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem and is among their most notable efforts. It undoubtedly helped launch the group to international success. As you can tell instantly from the album’s title, ‘Come Fill Your Glass with Us’, the album is a virtual soundtrack of Irish pub life. The recording perfectly evokes the hard-drinking, late-night atmosphere of a working man’s Irish pub.


Whisky You’re the Devil
The Maid of the Sweet Brown Knowe
The Moonshiner
Bold Thady Quill
Rosin the Bow
Finnigan’s Wake
The Real Old Mountain Dew
Courting in the Kitchen
Mick McGuire
A Jug of Punch
Johnny McEldoo
Cruiscin Lan
The Parting Glass



although this album is available for free download if you wish we would appreciate it if you could spare a few pennys or cent’s to donate to the Justice For The Craigavon 2 campaign. Brendan McConville and John Paul Wootton are two young Irishmen that have been unjustly convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. We ask you to find out more information on the case by visiting

and please do all you can to publicise these poor men’s imprisonment.

(listen to the album below just press play!)


by Patrick Clancy

A group of workmen were tearing down a very old distillery in the south of Ireland. It had not been used for fifty years and was full of birds’ nests. When they reached the vat where the whisky had been stored, they found a small metal pipe leading from it and going into the ground. It had been well hidden. They dug down following it one foot underground till it ended in a small hollow under a tree two hundred yards from the distillery. No one could explain it. The facts end here, but they suggest strange stories of men long ago stealing to that hollow at night and draining off the whisky out of sight of the distillery.
There is no one to tell of the nights of drinking and song that came out of that pipe, But I’m sure some of the Irish drinking songs on this record were sung, as some of them are much older than that distillery. Drinking and singing have been enjoyed by men everywhere and always. As islands were discovered and jungles penetrated, all new found peoples had songs of some kind and had found a way of making intoxicating drink. If you hear a lot of singing from your neighbor’s home at midnight, you just know there is drinking going on.
In Ireland people would gather in the pubs on fair days and market days when their business of the day had ended, to “wet their whistle” and hear n song. A travelling piper, fiddler, singer or fluter would provide sweet music for pennies and a farmer could learn a new song or two. My grandmother kept one of these pubs and learned quite a few of the songs, one of them being ‘Whisky You’re the Devil’, which I have not heard elsewhere. Another one of her songs was ‘Portlairge’, which is a local Gaelic song, and all the place names mentioned are within twenty miles of her pub. The words translate as follows:
— 1 —
I was the day in Waterford.
Fol dow, fol dee, fol the dad I lum.
There was wine and pints on the table.
Fol dow . . .
There was the full of the house of women there,
Fol dow . . .
And myself drinking their health.
— 2 —
A woman from Rath came to visit me,
And three of them from Tipperary.
Their people weren’t satisfied.
They were only half satisfied.
— 3 —
I’ll set out from Carrick in the rooming,
And take a nice girl with me.
Off we’ll go thro’ “The Gap,”
And northwards to Tipperary.
Like Tom and Liam and I, Tommy Makem learned most of his songs from his family, particularly from his mother, Mrs. Sarah Makem, who still lives in County Armagh, Ireland and sings on Tradition Records The Lark In The Morning, TLP 1004. When Tommy sings ‘Bold Thady Quill’, he is singing about a champion hurler from County Cork, whom I understand is still alive. The song ‘Finnigan’s Wake’ gave the title to the famous novel by James Joyce, who was interested in Tim Finnigan’s resurrection from the dead by having whisky (water of life) poured on him during a fight at the wake. The Gaelic chorus of ‘Cruiscin Lan’ (My Little Full Jug) means:
Love of my heart, my little jug, Bright health, my darling.
Most of these songs tell their own story. They are not merely curiosity pieces or antiques; they are still very much alive and are as popular as the drink that inspired them.

More Information On The Clancy Brothers And Tommy Makem

Wikipedia  WebSite  LastFM  Facebook  YouTubeLive

(The story of The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem in their own words)


This album was brought to you as part of our regular series where we bring you something a little bit different to what you’re maybe use to. Lost or hidden and sometimes forgotten gems from the legends and also unknowns that have inspired and provoked folk music and musicians right up to modern age celtic-punk music. The albums are usually out of print so we can provide a free download link for you.

You can find our Steppin’ Stones page here with the full list of albums to choose from.


by Abagael McCauley

 “This is your heritage!”

my dad said as he turned up the volume of the Chrysler Mini-Van’s stereo. We were parked along the St. Patty’s Day parade route, just two blocks from my house, and The Chieftain’s cassette was playing so loud that I felt the car shaking with the sound of the bagpipes.

“Doesn’t it just make your blood boil?”

He said enthusiastically with a laugh. I nodded and pulled my blanket close as the cold March wind blew through the back of the open trunk. I never knew what he meant when he said that. Why was something that was supposed to be representative of my heritage meant to make my blood boil? It never sounded pleasant, so why did he get so carried away whenever bagpipes were played?

To many Irish and Scottish families, Celtic music is more than a way to honour a heritage; it is a way to reconnect with forgotten family and pay homage to a people’s history of struggle. It is a way for members of a divided culture to feel connected and unified despite distance. Celtic Punk acts as a cultural and political unifier for a new generation, taking traditional Irish songs and retooling them with a more modern, rock instrumentation, and by adding heavy political overtones.


Most countries over the course of their history experience some sort of inner turmoil amongst sectarian groups, and Ireland was no exception. Northern Ireland became a battle ground between two groups, the Protestants and the Catholics, the Unionists and Nationalists. The Unionists wish to see Northern Ireland continue to be part of the United Kingdom, while The Nationalists wish to see Northern Ireland become part of the rest of Ireland, independent from British rule. These two opposing views are linked to deeper cultural divisions. Unionists are overwhelmingly Protestant, descendants of mainly Scottish, English, Welsh and Huguenot settlers as well as Old Gaelic Irishmen who had converted to one of the Protestant denominations. Nationalists are predominantly Catholic and descend from the population predating the settlement, with a minority from Scottish Highlanders as well as some converts from Protestantism. Discrimination against nationalists under the Stormont government, which was in effect from 1921 to 1972, gave rise to the nationalist civil rights movement in the 1960s.

Some Unionists argue that any discrimination was not just due to religious or political bigotry, but also the result of more complex socio-economic, socio-political and geographical factors. Whatever the cause, the existence of discrimination, and the manner in which Nationalist anger at it was handled, were a major contributing factor which led to the long-running conflict known as the Troubles. The political unrest went through its most violent phase between 1968 and 1994.

From February 1967, a civil rights movement developed in Northern Ireland that challenged the unionist political status quo (Bryan). Between 1967 and 1969, there were increasingly violent confrontations between the Protestant and Catholic communities that began to attract the attention of the international media.

irish AmericaThis violence sparked what is often referred to as the ‘new Diaspora’, a mass exodus of Irish citizens mimicking the emigration habits of the Irish during The Great Famine that began 1845. One by-product of the Celtic Diaspora was the existence of large communities across the world that looked for their cultural roots and identity to their origins in the Celtic nations. This is particularly true in the United States and Canada, where there are large communities descended from Irish and Scottish immigrants (‘Celtic Rock’). Bryan, the author of ‘Orange Parades’, describes Irish traditions from Northern Ireland in terms of ritual and their meaning as a unifier.

“Ritual helps to create solidarity within groups, often in the absence of consensus, provides access to political legitimacy and moulds people’s understanding’ of the political universe. Ritual action provides the objectification of politics, constituted ad invested in symbols…cultural or symbolic capital that enables and sustains, but can also resist, the legitimization of communities” (Bryan)

That is, things that are interpreted as meaning one than can be used by a counter-culture to legitimize or reinforce a cultural or political stance. These things can even be used as a way to resist the powers at work in a culture. Elements of disguised and more anonymous forms of public resistance often manifest in the form of rumour, gossip, songs, rituals, and euphemisms.

Many times, and as can be seen in the consumption of Celtic rock, music can take on the role of sustaining an identity. Additionally, displacement and political exile as a consequence of armed conflict can also bring attention of people in other lands and from other cultures, who were otherwise unlike to have discovered it (‘War and Armed Conflict’).

Beginning in the 1950s, Irish traditional music was finding new audience and was being accepted by younger and older generations, but had a larger effect on the next generation of musicians who would create a hybrid genre known as Celtic Rock (Cooper). Earlier colonialism and a lack of external influences during the World Wars, due to Ireland’s neutrality, meant there had been a lack of international influence on culture. However, in the 1960s, Ireland began to see influences of soul, blues, rock and roll, and country mixing with Irish traditional timings and compositions to create an entirely new style of music (Cooper). Blues musicians often take the approach of personalizing a struggle by placing the singer at the centre of the narrative, offering an individual perspective within a community-centred genre or struggle (‘War and Armed Conflict’). Similarly, in the songs emerging from Latin American revolutionary struggles, the passion with which particular events and activities are recorded in music is

“…not so much that of a singer’s personal response as that of a collective interpretation of events”- ‘War and Armed Conflict’

Much of Celtic and Punk music functions as a way to feel the heartbeat of a collective culture and gauge the emotional state of a people.

Celtic rock is a genre of folk rock that incorporates Celtic music, instrumentation, and themes into a rock music context, and has played a major role in the maintenance and definition of regional and national identities and in fostering a pan-Celtic culture (‘Celtic Rock’). That is, traditional music, particular ballads, jigs and reels are given new life and appeal with the addition of rock instrumentation and incorporation of Celtic instruments, including the Celtic harp, tin whistle, uillean pipes, fiddle, bodhran, accordion, concertina, melodeon, and highland bagpipes to conventional rock formats (‘Celtic Rock’).

AMYTHREE (2)The bagpipe is a particularly important part of this movement due to it’s historical meaning to the Celtic people, especially those of Scottish descent. In Scotland, The Disarming Act of 1746 and the Amendment in 1748 as created by King George II, in order to ‘more effectually secure the peace of the highlands’ prohibited the use or bearing of the sword or other warlike weapon, or wearing any clothing resembling or paying homage to ‘highland clothes’. It did not, however, ban the playing or ownership of bagpipes, and this instrument, so

“potent in stimulating the blood of the highlander”

remained as one of the few ways for the Scottish people to hold on to their heritage despite English rule (Allen). This instrument quickly became a symbol of rebellion and pride for the Celtic people, and is often a featured component of Celtic rock bands and songs.

The function of Celtic Rock has been less to create mainstream success, than to bolster cultural identity. This has thus created reinforcement of pan-Celtic culture and of particular national or regional identities between those with a shared heritage, but who are widely dispersed (‘Celtic Rock’). A popular Celtic rock band, Flogging Molly, wrote a song titled ‘Rebels of the Sacred Heart’ which talks about what it is like to be Irish Catholic in America. The lyrics read

“Genuflect all you refugees who fled the land / Now on guilt you kneel / And say a prayer for those left behind/From beyond the pale to the Northern sky / So you saved your shillings and your last six pence / Cause in God`s name they built a barbed wire fence / Be glad you sailed for a better day / But don`t forget there`ll be hell to pay”

With little more than religion and tradition tying them to their homeland, Irish immigrants and their descendants often feel tremendous guilt for fleeing but also a pride in their heritage. The fact that this music is able to communicate a feeling that is so universal amongst those of Celtic heritage is a testament to it’s importance in fostering a feeling of unity and a pan-celtic culture.

The author of ‘Pipes and Pipers’, Greg Allen, wrote on the importance of bagpipers in the redeveloping Scottish culture. He said their function was

“to inspire youth with a national spirit, to give them a noble bearing on the march, in the playing field or on some solemn and sad …To assist these ends and to restore to our youth some of the high pride and dignity that belongs to a people who have suffered so much, who have struggled so long, to emerge from the land of bondage into the full freedom of a national existence so long denied to them…”(Allen)

I think the same is to be said for Celtic Punk – this unique style of music was served as a way to empower Celtic youth and unify them with the reminder that they have something to be proud of, despite their suffering.

On a March night similar to the one with my father at my first St. Patrick’s Day parade, I found myself in front of a stage that was about to present the band of musicians who first made me love the music of my culture, The Dropkick Murphys. The excitement of the audience was like nothing I had experienced at any other concert, and when the curtain dropped, the sea of green in which I was standing undulated towards the stage. I was swept up physically by the people around me who were pushing and swaying with the opening chords of one of their songs. On cue, four bagpipers took the stage to chime in with the accordion and guitars, and I was covered in goosebumps.

I took out my phone and texted my father.

“I get it now”

Irish America 1

Works Cited:

Allen, Greg D. “Pipes and Pipers.” NEFTA.net. The North Easy Folklore Archive. Web. 19 Mar. 2012.

Bryan, Dominic. “Northern Ireland: Ethnicity Politics and Ritual.” Orange Parades: The Politics of Ritual, Tradition, and Control. London: Pluto, 2000. Print.

“Celtic Rock.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 5 Mar. 2012. Web. 19 Mar. 2012.

Cooper, David. The Musical Traditions of Northern Ireland and Its Diaspora: Community and Conflict. Burlington, VT [u.a.: Ashgate, 2009. Print.

Dubber, Andrew. “MA Music Industries.” MA Music Industries. 1 Mar. 2012. Web. 19 Mar. 2012.

McLoone, Martin. “Punk Music In Northern Ireland: The Political Power Of ‘What Might Have Been’.” Irish Studies Review 12.1 (2004): 29-38. Academic Search Premier. Web. 19 Mar. 2012.

“War and Armed Conflict.” Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World: Media, Industry, and Society. London: Continuum, 2003. Credo Reference. Web. 17 March 2012

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