The youngest of the Clancy Brothers, Liam Clancy played a major role in the success of the Irish folk singing group that he shared with his brothers. "I never heard a singer as good as (Liam)," said Bob Dylan during a late-'90s interview. "He was just the best ballad singer I ever heard in my life. Still is, probably. I can't think of anyone who is a better ballad singer."
Clancy was drawn to creative endeavors at a young age. Painting and writing poetry and short stories since childhood, he produced, directed, designed scenery, and acted in several local theatrical productions as a teen. Although his mother was considered an important source for Irish folk songs, it wasn't until an American folk song collector visited the Clancy home in 1955 that he began to sing. "The first thing I ever sang," he later recalled, "was the recording that Diane Hamilton made — 'The Lark in the Morning.'" Clancy's involvement with Hamilton had a profound effect on his future. Accompanying her to Keady, County Armagh, he met folksinger Sarah Makem and her son, Tommy Makem; Tommy became his lifelong friend and musical collaborator.
Tommy and Liam immigrated to the United States in 1956 hoping to find jobs as stage and television actors. They soon found that they earned more money by singing Irish folk songs at a Greenwich Village nightspot, the Fifth Peg (later called Gerde's Folk City), with Clancy's older brother, Paddy, who had settled in New York a couple of months before their arrival. Releasing their debut album, Irish Songs of Rebellion, on Paddy Clancy's Tradition label in 1956, the Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem ushered in a new era of Irish folk music. With the encouragement and support of heiress Diane Guggenheim, they joined with beat poets, artists, and other folksingers to transform New York's Greenwich Village into a bastion of creativity. Performing regularly in top New York nightclubs by the early '60s, Clancy and the group were launched to international stardom after appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1961. Scheduled to perform two songs, they were forced to extend their appearance when the show's headliner canceled. The following year, they performed for a sold-out audience at Carnegie Hall.
Clancy continued to sing with his brothers but soon embarked on a solo career, with his eponymous 1965 debut album released by the Vanguard label in the U.S. and Fontana in the U.K. Having settled in Calgary, Alberta, he hosted his own television show, for which he received a Canadian Emmy. Although he was no longer a member of the Clancy Brothers, Clancy continued to collaborate with Makem, recording a series of impressive duo albums during the '80s. After Liam reunited with his brothers in 1984, the Clancy Brothers performed concerts in Dublin, Belfast, Cork, Galway, and New York's Lincoln Center. Although he also played with his brothers and nephew Robbie O'Connell in 1990, a serious rift between Liam and Paddy Clancy prevented them for playing together for six years. Working his problems out with his brother in 1996, Clancy rejoined the Clancy Brothers, then including his brothers Paddy, Bobby, and O'Connell, to record an album, Older But No Wiser, and embark on a farewell tour. He continued to tour with his son, Donal, and O'Connell, as Clancy, O'Connell & Clancy from 1996 until 1999.
During his latter years Clancy resided in Ring, a small County Waterford village on Ireland's southeastern coast, where he supervised his own recording studio. In 2002, Clancy's memoirs, The Mountain of the Women, were published by Doubleday. After years of suffering pulmonary fibrosis, Clancy succumbed to the disease in 2009. He was 74. ~ Craig Harris