Traditional Troubadours: How The Clancy Tradition Celebrates St. Patrick's Day
It’s all in the family for the Clancy Tradition, a Westchester-based Irish band that’s in high demand this St. Patrick’s Day
Six-part harmony: The Clancy Tradition features two generations of the Clancy family. Learn more about the band and their music at www.theclancytradition.com
Everyone’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, they say, but only someone who’s really Irish — born Irish, bred Irish, immigrant Irish — the other 364 days a year can truly appreciate it. For someone like Gene Clancy, the parades and the shillelaghs and — yes — the beer all mean a whole lot more than they do to the rest of us.
If you’re a fan of Irish folk music, you know about Gene, his brother Pat, and their band, the Clancy Tradition. This family sextet features Gene on guitar and vocals, his daughter Rosemary on fiddle and mandolin, his son John on bass, Patrick on vocals and piano, Pat’s daughter Liadain (pronounced Layden) singing vocals, and the kids’ friend Mike Melanophy on button organ. They’ve been playing in and around the lower Valley for ages. But their roots go back more than 50 years, all the way back, in fact, to the Olde Sod.
In the 1950s, Gene, Pat and another brother, Brendan, had a successful ceili (Irish dance) band that played throughout Ireland. When folk music exploded in the U.S. in the late ’50s, the brothers were signed by a New York talent agency and imported to tour the United States as the Irish Ramblers. They also played such legendary folk clubs as the Bitter End and Gerde’s Folk City with the likes of Judy Collins, Tom Paxton, and the more famous but unrelated Clancy Brothers. (“Someone once asked Liam Clancy if we were related,” Gene remembers. “He said, ‘Sure we are. We’re related through Guinness.’ ”)
After their three-year contract expired, Brendan went back to Ireland. Pat and Gene stayed, and took real jobs. They eventually settled in Westchester County and became successful in the moving-and-storage business.
But music remained a big part of their lives. “We always had a little band going, playing the Irish bars in the city,” says Gene, now 73. (Pat is 78.) Their kids grew up playing as well. “And before you knew it we had a family band again,” he says.
Naturally, this is a busy time for a band called the Clancy Tradition. On March 13, they’ll be playing at the Towne Crier Café in Pawling. The following Saturday night, they’ll appear at the South Salem Library. And on a more personal note, Gene and his wife will head to New York for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, as they’ve done just about every year since he jumped the pond. “I always like to march with my native county, Armagh,” he says. “We gather on West 44th Street, meet old friends we haven’t seen in a year, enjoy a nice glass of Guinness.” It’s more than socializing, though. This day maintains the heritage and sense of pride native Irish like Gene carry in their bones. “It’s important for every nationality to support those who left their country but tried to maintain their folklore and music,” he says. “It’s like they say back home in Ireland — he done good in America.”