Like all great troubadours, Tommy Makem isn't dead. His body is lifeless, having finally succumbed to the lung cancer that ate away at him the last few years.
But Tommy Makem was an Irish soul singer, and souls don't die. His music is preserved, on the old vinyl LPs he made with his pals, the Clancy brothers, more recently on CDs, more intimately in memory, in the hard drive of any brain that heard his basso profundo voice.
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In August 1969, Makem went to sing at the Free Derry Fleadh, a festival meant to give some hope to the people of a town he loved so well, a town that bore the brunt of the bloodshed and battered heads of the Troubles. I've talked to maybe 20 people from Derry over the years who say that hearing Makem's version of "Four Green Fields" was their last great memory, before the north of Ireland descended into complete madness.
One of those metaphorical fields, Ulster, ran red with blood for 30 years. But now it is mostly at peace, and it is greening up again. That brought great peace to Tommy Makem.
The New York Times: Tommy Makem, 74, Hero of Irish Folk Music, Dies
In 1963 they performed at the White House at the request of President John F. Kennedy, who was of Irish descent. Mr. Makem had rewritten an old song, "We Want No Irish Here." It was taken from the time in America when there were signs saying, "No Irish Need Apply."The Belfast Telegraph: On stage as Makem dealt with jet lag
In an interview with The Belfast News Letter in 2003, Mr. Makem said, "superimposed over us on television was a great shot of President Kennedy laughing his head off."”
Paul Flynn, who is Traditional Arts Officer with the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, was visiting America 10 years ago when he met Makem.
"I was playing in America with some friends and we drove to New Orleans to listen to Tommy and his son," he said.
"When we got there Tommy and son were jet-lagged and asked myself and my friend if we'd do the gig for them. That was my first formal introduction to Tommy and he was great craic. He joined us for a song.
"Then last year in Milwaukee at the biggest Irish music festival in the US Tommy was there playing the banjo.
"He was tuning up and I went over to introduce myself and he stuck his hand out and said, 'We met in New Orleans!'"
Also from the Belfast Telegraph: Obituary: Tommy Makem: A musician with many guises
Tommy's achievements were also recognised with honorary doctorates from some of the world's top universities, most recently last month from the University of Ulster.
His busy career was the mark of a lifetime's achievement, and even Tommy himself did not consider winding down as the years went on.
His website recounts an occasion when he was asked if he had any plans to retire, to which he replied: "Yes, of course. I retire every night and in the morning when I awake I realise just how lucky and privileged I am to be able to continue doing the things I love to do."
The Manchester (NH) Union Leader: Makem will 'be alive in a lot of people's hearts'
"He certainly was a hero of mine," said Marty Quirk, the Irish troubadour from Manchester.
"You can call him a superstar in the Irish folk music, but he was always welcoming to anybody," said Quirk. "I've performed with him at a few concerts. He always had a helping hand."
Though he took center stage in the world's most prestigious venues, Makem never forgot his roots -- in Ireland and New Hampshire.
Early this year, after being hospitalized just days before, Makem headlined a concert benefitting a Manchester social service agency for the 26th straight year.