Saturday, December 5, 2009

Two Wonderful Irish Men

The world lost two wonderful men yesterday, both of Irish birth; one died in Cork, the other at his home in Lincolnshire, England. The eldest was a marvelous actor - Richard Todd, OBE; he was a consummate actor in film, on stage, and on television. He was born in 1919 in Dublin and was a British paratrooper in World War II, which won him the Order of the British Empire. The following is an excerpt from The Daily Mirror in London: "At the outbreak of war he volunteered and became an officer in the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry in 1941. He asked to become a paratrooper and in May 1943 he was posted to the 7th Parachute Battalion. Todd and his comrades captured Pegasus Bridge in early action on D-Day in what has been described as "the finest piece of airmanship of the war". On the 60th anniversary he recalled the moment he landed: "I was quite pleased I got there intact, then I became aware it wasn't a very healthy place to be because there was a lot of tracer going around." Todd scrambled into a wood and with 150 other paratroopers reached Pegasus and Ranville bridges, vital crossings to allow Allied forces to break out from the Normandy beach-heads. He later recalled: "There was sporadic enemy mortar and artillery fire we could do nothing about. One shell landed near me, killing a couple of our men." There he joined forces with Major Howard. All the while, Todd kept his civilian job secret from his fellow fighters. He said: "I never admitted to anybody during my entire service that I was an actor. I was terrified I'd be put in charge of Ensa (Entertainments' National Service Association). "Not even my closest friends knew I was an actor. I told them I was reading English at St Andrews University." After the war Todd rejoined Dundee rep before making his West End debut in The Hasty Heart. He appeared in the film version of the play with ex-US President Ronald Reagan and was nominated for the best actor Oscar in 1949. Todd played wounded Scottish soldier Lachlan MacLachlan, who has to stay in hospital not knowing he has weeks to live while his mates head home from Burma at the end of the Second World War. Two years later he was voted one of the top 10 British box-office attractions in the Motion Picture Herald -Fame Poll. The actor's chiselled looks and piercing blue eyes made him perfect for swashbuckling roles in 50s Disney costume dramas The Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men, The Sword and the Rose and Rob Roy, The Highland Rogue. " He will be missed.

Liam Clancy passed away in a hospital in Cork with his wife and two daughters by his side; he had been fighting pulmonary fibrosis, the same disease that killed his elder brother Bobby in 2002. My friends Mary and Kathryn, in Gainesville, first introduced me to the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem in the mid-1970s. I have spent many hours listening to the the group singing raucously in live venues and then again, singing quietly, reverently, and sadly of the past, present, and future of the Irish. They were best known for their rowdy and boozy performances of Irish drinking songs and ballads. Most of my favorites were recorded in the studio, where the men sang their hearts out. Liam was the youngest of the eleven Clancy children, and he came to the US in 1956, to work as a stage actor with his brothers Tom and Patrick. The men soon found that they could make more money playing music and singing on Friday and Saturday nights than they could working 40-hours a week, and so they performed. They were picked by Ed Sullivan to do one song on his Sunday night TV program in 1961; another group cancelled, the Clancy Brothers expanded their time on-screen to 3 songs, and the rest is history. The Brothers broke up as a group in 1974, then occasionally got back together again for performances along with Tommy Makem. Tom Clancy passed away in 1990 from stomach cancer; Patrick died in 1998 from lung cancer; and Tommy Makem also died from cancer two years ago. It is the end of an era.

My thanks and appreciation for the entertainment both of these men provided cannot be adequately expressed. May they rest in peace.

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