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The Godfather of Irish Music

Grace Myers | Friday, September 30, 2005

Tommy Makem, considered the Godfather of Irish music, has played in almost every prestigious venue in the English-speaking world. He has also appeared on every major network in the United States, including performances on The Ed Sullivan Show and The Tonight Show.

The group, Tommy Makem and the Makem Brothers, includes Tommy Makem, his sons Shane, Conor and Rory, along with another set of Irish siblings, Mickey and Liam Clancy. Together, they have traveled extensively, including performances at Saint Mary’s College. Their innumerable performances at South Bend’s Fiddler’s Hearth and other locations throughout the area have earned them the keys to the city. However, despite their great esteem and frequent visits to the area, Tommy Makem and the Makem Brothers have never played at the University Of Notre Dame.

It is expected, and indeed is fitting, for Notre Dame to be a prominent scene for Irish music. However, this has not been the case in past years. Harriet Engle, a WSND DJ, local musician and Celtic music aficionado, explained that, “over the past 10 to 15 years there has not been a lot of Irish music.”

She emphasized that a great deal of work goes into bringing these artists to the campus. She recounted how over the past few years the Irish music scene has grown steadily in the South Bend area, affecting the campuses of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s at times.

However, the greatest single event that has led to the increase of Irish music at the University and in our community was the opening of the Debartolo Performing Arts Center. At the creation of this world-class facility, Engle is “tickled snort-less” as it is a major draw for an array of prominent artists from all over the world, including several Celtic artists.

This year promises to be one of the most eventful and exciting Celtic music seasons that the University has ever experienced. Tommy Makem and the Makem Brothers are a fitting group to commence the impressive line-up, which includes performances by the well known Mark O’Conner and The Chieftains. These performances are sure to add to the cultural scene of the University and increase the growth of Irish music in the area.

Tommy Makem’s band is one of the most distinguished of this year’s line-up. Tommy Makem and his sons come from a lineage of musicians and performers of various genres. Shane Makem explained that they learned Irish music and its traditions from watching their father.

After some time, they also developed a passion for playing and writing the music. They were not pushed into being musicians, or Irish musicians for that matter. Instead, it was “kind of like osmosis” – they gradually became a part of the music and grew so attached that they wanted to do it also.

Shane was very humble about his band’s achievements, especially their high level of fame for an Irish music group. He was, however, quick to explain that the strengths of the band lie not only in the great songs and their technical capacities, but also in their ability to portray the narrative. This is important so that all of their listeners take something away from the experience without necessarily knowing the historical context of the songs.

Tommy Makem and the Makem Brothers are exceptional because the passion they have for their music and its tradition supersedes their distinguished talent. The New York Times praises the band, claiming that, “Makem could make every one of his listeners feel part Irish and proud of it.”

If this is the case, Notre Dame will surely love them.