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World mourns passing of Irish folk legend Liam Clancy

Irish folk legend Liam Clancy died yesterday after a long battle with a respiratory illness.

The singer and musician, famously described by Bob Dylan as "the best ballad singer I'd ever heard in my life", was the last surviving member of the famous Clancy Brothers.

Mr Clancy (74) died at about midday, surrounded by his wife Kim and daughters Siobhan and Fiona, at the Bons Secours Hospital, Co Cork. He had been suffering from pulmonary fibrosis, or scarring of the lungs, the same disease his brother Bobby died of in 2002.

Dubbed Ireland's first pop stars, the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem brought Irish folk songs to an international audience and influenced artists from Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger to the Pogues.

Liam, perhaps the most enigmatic of the group, was just 21 when he left his native Carrick-on-Suir, Co Tipperary, for New York. Liam and his older brothers Tommy and Paddy and Tommy Makem took to singing in local bars and venues and soon became part of the emerging Greenwich Village folk movement of the 1950s.

In their trademark Aran jumpers and with Liam's dramatic singing style, the group made its mark, and after a chance appearance on the 'Ed Sullivan Show' the group were offered a record deal with Columbia.

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Responding to an Irish-American nostalgia for the old Irish songs, they found huge success as performers.

However, a combination of alcohol and tax difficulties meant that Liam lost most of what he had made in the 60s and had to reinvent himself as a performer all over again.

In his best-selling memoir 'The Mountain of Women' Liam revealed how he used drink to mask religious and sexual repression. He also spoke of his regret about the children he fathered but never knew.

He is survived by his wife Kim, two sisters Joan and Peg, his four children -- Eban, Siobhan, Donal, Fiona -- and eight grandchildren.

Early yesterday, he had spoken by telephone with his musician son Donal, who is touring in California while Eban travelled home from Britain yesterday.

The funeral may take place in Dungarvan, Co Waterford, on Monday although final arrangements have not been confirmed.

Tributes poured in last night from colleagues, friends and public figures.

Filmmaker Alan Gilsenen, who made 'The Yellow Bittern' documentary, said Mr Clancy's passing was the "end of an era".

"He and his brothers and Tommy reclaimed an enormous amount of folk songs for Ireland, reinterpreted in them in terms of their experience in America, outselling the Beatles at one stage."

His manager David Teevan described him as "a remarkable man, and he was also a truly gifted artist".

"He had the ability to each time he sang a song or said a poem of living it for the first time, and enabling the audience to live that song, to really understand the message, the story, the depth, that the writer had put into the work," Mr Teevan said.

The Republic's Arts, Sport and Tourism Minister Martin Cullen said: "This generous and life giving person enriched all of our lives with memorable songs and was part of the fabric of Ireland's proud traditional music culture."

Mr Cullen said the the people of Ring, Co Waterford, where Liam lived for the last three decades, and others "will mourn his passing."

Fine Gael Leader Enda Kenny expressed his sympathy, saying that Ireland had lost a brilliant musician.

"His death really does mark the end of an era. Liam's contribution to Irish music and culture was simply outstanding," he said.

In recent times, Liam Clancy often quoted Bertolt Brecht's saying: "With a man's dying breath, he must be prepared to make a fresh start." Hopefully, somewhere, he has.

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