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Liam Clancy dies; Irish singer

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Irish balladeer Liam Clancy, last of the Clancy Brothers troupe whose feisty, boozy songs of old Ireland struck a sentimental chord worldwide, died Friday in a Cork hospital, his manager said. He was believed to be 74.

Clancy for years had incurable pulmonary fibrosis, the same lung-destroying disease that killed one of his older singing brothers, Bobby, in 2002.

Ireland's arts minister, Martin Cullen, led nationwide tributes to Clancy, praising his "superb singing, warm voice and gift for communicating in a unique storytelling style."

Clancy, the youngest of 11 children in a County Tipperary household filled with folklore and song, immigrated to the U.S. in 1956 to join two elder brothers, Tom and Patrick, who were singing on the side as they pursued budding careers as Broadway actors.

After recording a 1956 album of Irish rebel songs, they built a New York following as musicians and formed a partnership with Northern Ireland immigrant Tommy Makem.

Scouts for the Ed Sullivan Show spotted them performing in Greenwich Village's White Horse Tavern, and their 16-minute TV appearance in March 1961 -- extended because of the last-minute cancellation of another act -- turned them into an Irish American folk phenomenon.

Their agent cultivated a schmaltzy appeal to Irish emigrants worldwide, encouraging the Clancy Brothers and Makem to perform in hand-knitted cream-white Aran wool sweaters as well as tweed fishermen's caps.

But their up-tempo resurrection of traditionally slow, sad Irish songs made a deeper impression on much of America's emerging folk artist movement, including Bob Dylan, who paid tribute to Liam Clancy as "the best ballad singer I'd ever heard in my life."

The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem performed at Carnegie Hall; toured Ireland, Britain, Australia and the U.S.; and recorded more than a dozen albums before breaking up in 1974.

Liam Clancy, broke amid unpaid tax demands, retreated to his in-laws in Calgary, Canada, before making a comeback on Canadian television and in a new singing partnership with Makem.

In the 1980s and 1990s, he and other Clancy brothers combined with a range of other Irish traditional musicians on tours of North America, Europe and Australia, but brotherly feuds kept shaking up the band's lineup.

Tom Clancy died of stomach cancer in 1990, Patrick Clancy of lung cancer in 1998 and Makem of cancer in 2007.

Liam Clancy's survivors include his wife, Kim; two daughters, Siobhan and Fiona; two sons, Donal and Eban; two sisters, Joan and Peg; and eight grandchildren.

news.obits@latimes.com

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