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Irish singer Tommy Makem recalled as 'Bard of Armagh'

The Dover, N.H., Fire Department Honor Guard detachment stood at attention at the burial service yesterday of Irish singer and storyteller Tommy Makem, who died Aug. 1. The Dover, N.H., Fire Department Honor Guard detachment stood at attention at the burial service yesterday of Irish singer and storyteller Tommy Makem, who died Aug. 1. (John Huff/Fosters Daily Democrat via the Associated Press)

DOVER, N.H. -- Mourners said farewell yesterday to Irish singer and storyteller Tommy Makem, whose signature songs have become standard repertoire for folk singers around the world, with a final round of applause as his casket was brought out of church.

The two-hour funeral Mass began with the traditional Irish song "Minstrel Boy" and ended with Makem's old friend and musical partner Liam Clancy singing "The Bard of Armagh."

Speakers recalled Makem, known as the modern-day Bard of Armagh, for his brilliance as a performer, his rich baritone voice, and his humility. Even with his success, he remained a modest family man who would take his evening stroll and regularly attend St. Mary Church, said the Rev. Fritz J. Cerullo.

"He knew who he was and, more importantly, where he came from," Cerullo said. "Tommy was the salt of the earth."

Makem, 74, died Aug. 1 after a long bout with lung cancer. He emigrated from County Armagh in the late 1950s and achieved American and worldwide stardom by spinning tales of his native land.

He is perhaps best known for "Four Green Fields," a song about a woman whose sons died trying to prevent strangers from taking her land, which he wrote in 1967. Other songs included "Gentle Annie" and "Red Is the Rose."

Eugene Byrne, a friend who has sung with Makem, offered a salute from musical artists and poets.

"He was the music," Byrne told the church audience of about 1,100. "He was the story. He was the words. He was the song. The singer has passed, but the song will live forever."

Mourners first showed up at the church nearly two hours before the Mass.

Besides ceremonial bread and wine presented at the altar, family and friends added gifts that symbolized Makem as an artist and a member of his adopted city of Dover. There was an American flag, an Irish flag, a banjo, Irish sweaters, a tin whistle, and a white Dover fire helmet that was placed on the altar as a "thank you" for Makem's charitable support.

After the funeral, his casket was placed on a fire engine, which brought it to the St. Mary New Cemetery for the burial.

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