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Tommy Makem

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Thomas “Tommy” Makem (November 4, 1932 – August 1, 2007) was an internationally celebrated Irish folk musician, artist, poet and storyteller. He was best known as a member of The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. He played the long-necked 5-string banjo, guitar, tin whistle, and bagpipes, and sang in a distinctive baritone. He was sometimes known as “The Bard of Armagh” (taken from a traditional song of the same name) and “The Godfather of Irish Music”.

Makem was born and raised in Keady, County Armagh (the “Hub of the Universe” as Makem always said), in Northern Ireland. His mother, Sarah Makem, was an important source of traditional Irish music, who was visited and recorded by, among others, Diane Guggenheim Hamilton, Jean Ritchie, Peter Kennedy and Sean O’Boyle. His father, Peter Makem, was a fiddler who also played the bass drum in a local pipe band named “Oliver Plunkett”, after a martyr of the Cromwell age. His brother and sister were folk musicians also. Young Tommy Makem, from the age of 8, was member of the St. Patrick’s church choir for 15 years where he sang Gregorian chant and motets. He didn’t learn to read music but he made it in his “own way”.
He started to work at 14 as a clerk in a garage and later he worked for a while as a barman at Mone’s Bar, a local pub and as a local correspondent for The Armagh Observer.

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