Willie Clancy (1918-1973)

24 November 2006, 9:11 PM GMT

Willie Clancy (1918-1973)

Willie Clancy was born in Miltown Malbay on Christmas Eve 1918. His parents were Gilbert Clancy and Ellen Killeen, a native of Ennistymon. A frequent visitor to Gilberts house had been the blind piper Garreth Barry, (1847 - 1900), a travelling musician around north-west and south-west Clare. Garreth Barry would stay in a household for up to three months at the time and so had a strong influence on Gilbert who played the concertina and flute. In such a household Willie grew up, got his first Tin Whistle at seven years and was taught by his father who quoted Garreth Barry as his authority. In 1936 Willie first heard Johnnie Doran playing the pipes at the Miltown Malbay races and was entranced by the “feeling for the tunes” he played. Willie followed his caravan around West Clare at that time and soon afterwards he had his own set of pipes.

He was also influenced by the local fiddlers, including Scully Casey and his son Bobby and picked up some traditional dancing steps also. Willie and his pal Martin Talty played at many a house dance, wren dances and American Wakes throughout the 30’s and 40’s. He went to work in Dublin in 1951, joined the Leo Rowsome quartet for Radio broadcasts and had many a session with John Kelly, Bobby Casey and the Pott’s family. He went to London in 1954 and came under the influence of Seamus Ennis. Back in Clare in 1957, he became an institution in himself and Miltown was the place to visit up until his untimely death. Willie had married Doirín Healy, whose grand aunt was married to Garreth Barry’s brother. Willie was concerned about the state of piping and took an active interest in pipe and reed making. His wit, humour, storytelling and singing were all integral parts of Willie’s character. Sadly, Willie died January 1973. Scoil Éigse Willie Clancy was immediately set up in his memory and has now - an international reputation.

His Music

In his piping Willie incorporated the wild influence of Johnnie Doran with the plaintive touch of Garreth Barry which he got from his own father and portrayed both successfully. He was sparing in his use of the regulators leaning towards the Seamus Ennis style, but he made liberal use of variations in the structure of his music. He had a fine repertoire of traditional songs, favouring the humorous types and he is generally acknowledged as one who did justice to the playing of the Irish Airs.

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