John McCullagh December 18, 2005
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Those of my generation experienced enormous pride when South Armagh favourite Tommy Makem took the world stage by storm in the 60s. He has, of course, gone from strength to strength in the succeeding decades and the pen-portrait that follows merely summarises some of the highlights of his illustrious career.


The wealth of Irish folklore, music, dance, composition and culture had remained largely dormant despite valiant efforts of the part of many, notably the Gaelic League over the previous century. There were occasional individuals, like Michael J Murphy of Dromantee, who played more than their part in preserving, maintaining and reviving elements of these. One of the most important of individuals in the field of Irish music was Tommy’s mother Sarah Makem.

Sarah Makem (nee Boyle) was a repository of old folk songs. She was also a talented song-writer. There are a number of songs entitled As I Roved Out. Sarah’s beautiful song of that name was chosen by the BBC in Northern Ireland as the signature tune of their popular folk music programme of the 50s and 60s. She contributed many other songs to that and other programmes.

She sang herself too and was considered a real character. With her cousin Annie Jane Kelly, Sarah fronted the Singing Greenes of Keady. Sarah’s husband Peter was a fiddler and her other son Jack was also a musician. Song collectors of many nationalities – especially Americans – would call to the home at Keady to record Sarah. It was the interest so sparked that motivated Tommy to launch what became a terrific international career. Indeed it was on the visit of a ‘collector’ that he first met Liam Clancy, and the rest, as they say, is history.

We will outline Tommy’s career soon.

First, we wish to pay tribute to his mother Sarah, whose contribution to Irish music was, if anything, even greater but in a time where Irish music was local and ‘parochial’ (as some would continue to argue, it ought to remain!) she never received the acclaim and recognition that she wholly deserved.

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