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Remembering Liam Clancy on the anniversary of his death

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When I was growing up in the Irish-heavy north Greenwich Village of the 1960s most of my pals wanted to be Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays. I was different. I wanted to be Liam Clancy.


Because he was a rebel. And a rogue. He taught me about the audacious Brennan on the Moor and the deadly fate of young Roddy McCorley. He sang sad love songs in that beautiful voice that would bring you to tears—then tore into the English with something like “God Bless England” or “Mr. Moses-Ri-Tooral-i-ay.”

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I first learned of the pleasures and evils of drink because of “Whiskey, You’re the Devil” and a young girl named “Nancy Whiskey” who’d grab you “by the knees.” And he didn’t let the all-powerful clergy off the hook either, poking gentle, but pointed, fun at the priests and nuns in the audience.

There was another reason he was my hero—I knew Liam always got the girl. And, boy, knowing what I know now, did he ever!

I got to know Liam casually in the 1970s and ‘80s when he drank at the Lion’s Head saloon on Christopher Street in the Village. I would tease him about why he always wore a cap—the worse show business sin, baldness!—and he would go right back at me, commenting about my scrawny red beard.

At the Head, he was a regular and a regular guy and at home he was, because of his albums, part of the family. He was loved and admired on both sides of the Atlantic and as soon as his death was announced on RTE on December 4, 2009, my phone started ringing with calls from cousins and friends in Dublin. His loss was profoundly felt not as a celebrity, but as a friend.

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The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem famously burst on the scene with an appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in January 1961.

“We weren’t that impressed,” wrote Liam in his autobiography. “We were arrogant. Young and arrogant. As they say in Ireland, we didn’t give a tinker’s damn. But we accepted.”

There was a cancellation of one of the acts and the Clancys and Makem filled, getting 15-minutes of uninterrupted publicity. Fifteen minutes and 80 million viewers later, they were, as Tom Clancy succinctly said, “Fuckin’ famous!” After working at their craft in the back room of the White Horse saloon on Hudson Street in the Village for years, instantly, because of the power of television, they were celebrities.

Greenwich Village contributed a lot to the........

© IrishCentral