A recent visit to Ring and Helvick, which are on the faraway headland which gazes back at me when I am on the beaches near my home in Tramore, Co, Waterford, stirred up memories of my all time favourite singer, Liam Clancy. Ring was the place where Liam Clancy chose to live after a long, illustrious career touring the world, until his death in 2009.
One only has to flick through his book, Liam Clancy: Memoirs of an Irish Troubadour (2002) to gain insight into the heart, soul and rollercoaster life of this man, described by Bob Dylan as 'the best ballad singer I ever heard in my life.'
Watching the boats at tranquil Helvick Harbour, I found myself thinking about two occasions on which I was lucky enough to hear Liam Clancy sing. The first was in 1987 at The Grand Hotel, Tramore. The large room was packed with both locals and holidaymakers full of joie de vivre. Liam Clancy came in quietly, took his place with his guitar on a tall bar stool. The hush was palpable as we heard that unique melodic voice introducing his first song. Unforgettable moment charisma, humility, poetry, trademark hat .....
I think of the thousands of kids with memories of weeks spent at Colaiste na Rinne (or 'Ring') learning Irish for school examinations. Liam Clancy and his music will have been part of so many of their lives because this man, with his brothers and Tommy Makem, as well as on his own as a solo artist, was representing Ireland and Irishness all over the world for around five decades from the 1950s onwards. Weeks at Ring so often talked about as first weeks away from home; hot summer days; budding romances; life long friendshps.
I look again towards the Waterford side of the bay and recall the second time I saw Liam Clancy perform. This was in Garter Lane Arts Centre in Waterford around 2006. This time the room was small but again full to capacity. I had brought my young son to hear a master perform. The smile and twinkling eyes were even warmer, if that was possible, than they had been in the Grand Hotel twenty years before. Here was a man, who laughingly mentioned 'senior moments' singing from the depths of his being. He had no need for fancy sound systems. His melodious voice and intense love of words, music and life echoed far beyond that intimate setting in Garter Lane and somehow they seemed to be whispering back to me from the sea out by Ring and Helvick last monday. So many songs to choose from but The Dutchman is the one that stands out for me: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SBIBGOTSI94