Folk legend Liam Clancy was now reunited with his brothers and bandmates after a passionate life that was lived to the full, his funeral service heard today.
On a biting cold winter’s day, hundreds packed into St Mary’s Church in Dungarvan, Co Waterford, to raise a parting glass to the Irish balladeer, praised by Bob Dylan as the best ever.
Priest Conor Kelly said Clancy had a joy of life driven by a belief that it was too wonderful and mysterious to just get through skimming the surface or living in the shallows.
The youngest and last to die of the Clancy brothers, who along with the late Tommy Makem were dubbed Ireland’s first pop stars, had rejoined his bandmates in eternity, mourners were told.
“The great band is together again, the music is fierce and the craic is mighty,” said Fr Kelly.
Music impresario Shay Healy said America had Elvis, Britain had The Beatles and Ireland had The Clancys and Tommy Makem.
Recalling Liam’s return from the US for the Thurles Fleadh Cheoil music festival during the band’s heady days in 1965, he said it was like being in the company of The Playboy of the Western World and Jesus rolled into one.
“Half the people wanted to touch his hem, the other half wanted to buy him a drink,” he said.
But those days had changed by the 1980s when Clancy and teetotaller Makem teamed up again for a stint as a duo.
Healey remembered Co Armagh-born Makem was charged with keeping an eye on his partner’s drinking, and once, when offered another glass, Clancy nodded at his watchful minder and replied: “Ulster says no.”
Led by wife Kim and children Eban, Donal, Sean, Andrew, Siubhan, Fiona and Aine as well as sisters Peg Power and Joan Butler, mourners spontaneously burst into song during the Mass as Donal played traditional airs, including 'Mo Ghile Mere' and 'Oft In The Stilly Night'.
There was standing room only in the church as figures from Irish music and politics, including representatives of President Mary McAleese and Taoiseach Brian Cowen, jostled for space among the many who turned out for the send-off.
Singers Liam O Maonlai, Finbar Furey, Paddy Reilly and Arts Minister Martin Cullen were also in attendance.
The service was celebrated in both English and Irish, the first language of Clancy’s adopted Gaeltacht home in Ring, Co Waterford, and was marked by music, story-telling and humour.
His trademark cap, a concertina, a book of poetry and a photograph of him performing was placed on top of this coffin throughout.
Prayers were said for an end to war, injustice and conflict in the world - issues the singer had raged against during life through his singing and story-telling.
Poet Michael Coady, also from Clancy’s native Carrick-on-Suir, Co Tipperary, recited from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s 'Crossing The Bar'.
Despite his crippling illness from lung disease, Clancy continued to perform up until months before his death last Friday, aged 74, and was transformed once he went on stage, the Mass heard.
“When he was going on stage, his old bones and heavy head would be left in the wings, he would stand up straight, his head was firm until the lights had dimmed and the crowd had all gone home,” said Healey, choking back tears.
“The lights have now dimmed for Liam himself. We’ll never see the like of him again.”
Clancy was buried afterwards in the New Cemetery, Ring.