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Odds & Sods
When Cruel Death Appears
Wednesday, 15th August, 2007  - Richard Farmer
Tommy Makem (November 4, 1932 – August 1, 2007)

Tommy Makem might have been a life long teetotaller but when he sang of wine and beer and spirits, as his obituary in this week’s Economist magazine put it, "no man had more feeling". What better epitaph than these words he sang with his folk singing partners the Clancy Brothers?

When I am in my grave and dead
And all my sorrows are past and fled
Transport me then into a fish
And let me swim in a jug of this.

Being chosen as the subject for The Economist’s weekly obituary is a tribute in itself. From all the world’s deaths in a week but one is chosen for what is always one of the most beautifully written pieces of journalism; certainly better words than I am capable of. Tommy Makem, who found a new audience in his last years through the wonderful Scorsese biography of Bob Dylan now on DVD and recently seen on SBS television in Australia, deserved all of the magazine’s words of tribute but let me quote but a few of them:

‘Tommy Makem picked up those legends too and, in 1955, took them to America, together with his bagpipes and a suitcase patched up with tape.

‘He meant to work in a cotton mill and do a bit of acting, but one St Patrick's night he was paid $30 for singing two songs in a club: "and I thought, by God, this is the land all right. Gold growing in the streets." ‘By 1958 he had teamed up with his friend Liam Clancy and Liam's brothers Paddy and Tom, who had come from Tipperary to America before him, and the gold continued to accrue. The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, all kitted out in Aran sweaters knitted by Mrs Clancy, triumphantly rode the wave of a folk revival that was turning Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie into stars.’

As a wine lover, the words of his song "CRUISCIN LAN" have always appealed to me as a third or fourth bottle brings on a little melancholia

Let the farmer praise his grounds, let the hunter praise his hounds,
Let the shepherd praise his sweetly scented lawn;
But I, more blest than they, spend each happy night and day
With my darlin' little cruiscin lan, lan, lan
Oh, my darlin little cruiscin lan.

Chorus:
Gra-ma-chree ma-cruiscin, slainte geal mavoorneen
Gra-machree ma cruiscin lan lan lan,
Oh! gramachree ma cruiscan lan

Immortal and divine, great Bacchus, god of wine
Create me by adoption your own son.
In hopes that you'll comply, That my glass shall ne'er run dry
Nor my darlin' little cruiscan lan lan lan
My darlin' little

And when cruel Death appears, in a few but happy years,
To tell me that my glass has run,
I'll say, "Begone, you knave! For great Bacchus gave me leave
To take another cruiscan lan lan lan
To take another cruiscan lan lan lan

But melancholy was hard to maintain when Tommy and the Clancys sang even about death as in "Isn’t it grand to be bloody well dead."

Let’s not have a sniffle
Let’s have a bloody good cry
And always remember
The longer you live
The sooner you bloody well die

We should all drink to that!

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