Friday, December 4, 2009

Shoals of Herring - Makem & Clancy

SONG Shoals of Herring


PERFORMED BY Tommy Makem & Liam Clancy

APPEARS ON This was a tune they did in concert; I can't find it on an album or CD.

A couple of hours ago I heard a sad piece of news: Liam Clancy, the last of the legendary Clancy Brothers and long-time musical partner of the late Tommy Makem, passed away earlier today. He was 74.

The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem were the voice of Irish traditional music to the US popular audience. If you thought of Irish music in the '50s, '60s, and '70s, these were the voices you heard. Their records were everywhere, they were on all the variety shows - Ed Sullivan, of course, and the Johnny Cash show among others - and all the folk festivals. They were certainly no strangers here in Newport, both with the Newport Folk Festival and the various Irish heritage festivals which pop up here and there through the year.

Liam Clancy on his own was a gifted musician who had a strong following in the Folk Music community. He was good buddies with Bob Dylan, and he often sang with and sang on the albums of Dylan, Pete Seeger, Oscar Brand, Odetta, and others. He was the youngest Clancy brother and by far the most popular; he was also the only Clancy brother to have documentaries made of his life - the 2006 Irish Television documentary The Legend of Liam Clancy and the 2009 full length biography by Alan Gilsenan called The Yellow Bittern: The Life and Times of Liam Clancy,

I chose the song "Shoals of Herring" because I heard Liam and Tommy sing this on many occasions here in Newport, and because the song was written by one of my favorite songwriters and folk artists, Ewan MacColl. Besides being a tourist town, Newport also has a considerable commercial fishing fleet, and songs of the sea and of fishing for a living are big here. It may be why Liam and Tommy always sang it when they visited us. It's not a landlubber's fantasy about life out on the sea; it's a working fisherman's song about his life of hard work, long days, and long stretches out to sea.

With our nets and gear we're faring
On the wild and wasteful ocean.
Its there that we hunt and we earn our bread
As we hunted for the shoals of herring

O it was a fine and a pleasant day
Out of Yarmouth harbor I was faring
As a cabinboy on a sailing lugger
For to go and hunt the shoals of herring

O the work was hard and the hours long
And the treatment, sure it took some bearing
There was little kindness and the kicks were many
As we hunted for the shoals of herring

O we fished the Swarth and the Broken Bank
I was cook and I'd a quarter sharing
And I used to sleep standing on my feet
And I'd dream about the shoals of herring

O we left the homegrounds in the month of June
And to Canny Shiels we soon were bearing
With a hundred cran of silver darlings
That we'd taken from the shoals of herring

Now you're up on deck, you're a fisherman
You can swear and show a manly bearing
Take your turn on watch with the other fellows
While you're searching for the shoals of herring

In the stormy seas and the living gales
Just to earn your daily bread you're daring
From the Dover Straits to the Faroe Islands
As you're following the shoals of herring

O I earned my keep and I paid my way
And I earned the gear that I was wearing
Sailed a million miles, caught ten million fishes
We were sailing after shoals of herring
I found this video of Liam and Tommy singing "Shoals of Herring" in February of 1977 at the National Stadium in Dublin. Obviously the boys sang this often; listen to the audience singing along!

And with that I bid a fond farewell to Liam Clancy, the last living member of a legend. With his passing an era has truly ended.


  1. still, it is good to know that there musicians in the next generation of the Clancy family making their own music, among them Liam's son Donal, niece Aoife, and nephew Robbie O'Connell.

  2. Kerry, I was just listening to Aoife yesterday. It's true that there's a lot of good music in the next generation, but old codgers like me still look back on the "Golden Age" with a nostalgic sigh. We'll miss Liam, and Tommy Makem, and the gang.

  3. A new 2-CD version of the 1963 Carnegie Hall Concert has been released, and this version includes the song. I found this item very recently on, and it is probably still available.

  4. liam brilliant clear sonorous renditions of songs

  5. oh thank you soo much for this guys!! I learnt bout the clancy bros an tommy from my dad who played the accordian, very well, he loved them, and me an my sis an bros, all know the lyrics to all the songs, I watch this an my old man is alive an well, well something lives on, he taught us to love music

  6. Please --- help me to find Liam Clancy song ----I've been searching -----. Was on YouTube --- not now. Called " When you're old.".