Tommy Makem was born in Keady, South Armagh. His mother Sarah Makem (opt. cit.) born 1900 was one of the Singing Greenes of Keady and a song collector. From her – and his father Peter, a famous fiddler, Tommy acquired his love of Irish music. He learned to play the war pipes, whistle, banjo, drums, piccolo and guitar.
Tommy, intent on pursuing a career as an actor, travelled to America with Liam Clancy. There he met Liam’s brothers Tom and Paddy. At first they were doing some stage acting off Broadway. Tommy and Liam started singing in The Fifth Peg in Greenwich. Soon they were earning three times their salary for acting. They were inspired by The Weavers and The Kingston Trio, both successful recording artistes of the era.
An appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1961 launched them into the big time. In 1969 Tommy left the Clancys for a solo career. He was equally successful, becoming a television star also, including many BBC, Ulster Television and Scottish TV shows and a 90 minute special in 1992 for American TV called Tommy Makem and Friends. In the mid-Seventies he again teamed up with Liam, this time as a duo. This partnership is perhaps best remembered for their version of Archie Fisher’s Waltzing Matilda.
Perhaps worldwide Tommy Makem is regarded as the modern Bard of Armagh. His composition Four Green Fields has become a classic.
The first Tommy Makem International Festival of Song was held in South Armagh in 2000 and is repeated each year since – a genuine and worthwhile contribution to the peace process.
But it is as a songwriter that he will longest be remembered: the classic Four Green Fields, The Rambles of Spring, Farewell to Carlingford, Gentle Annie, The Winds are singing Freedom’, and many more.
Long may he live to entertain all of us.