EXCERPTS

CHAPTER 1:
TOMMY MAKEM


Tommy reluctantly gave up performing the bagpipes as part of the Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem, when the group came to realize that because of the loud sound of the warpipes, playing them indoors at a show knocked the band members out of tune for the following songs. But not too long after that, for very different reasons, Tommy had to give up the bagpipes for good.

     “I can play a tune or two on the uileann pipes, but when I came to this country first, I had my hand crushed, my left hand, the fingers won’t, they’d be all right for a minute or two but then would begin to slip and they would slide off the holes because they [the holes] were wider apart [on the uileann pipes] than on the tin whistle.

     “I was working here in New Hampshire in a foundry [1956] trying to earn a few dollars so I wouldn’t starve to death when I went to New York to become an actor. The side of a printing press slipped as it was unchained. I was turning it over onto two horses (wooden horses). I put my hand to it to balance it so it wouldn’t [fall over] but it slipped and came down and bounced on a cement floor, my left hand under it. So I tore the tendons out of three fingers [severed the tendons connecting the fingers to the palm].

     “And that night, there were three or four doctors there looking at it. A couple of them thought they should probably cut the fingers off. I was only over from Ireland a couple of months. There was one young doctor who was just out of medical school, and his forte was tendons.

     “The young fella said, ‘That’s rather drastic, why don’t you let me see if I can save the fingers.’ So the other doctors said, ‘Sure, if you think you can do anything.’

     “He took me, and I had seven or eight surgeries on my hand. He took tendons out of my wrist and out of my feet, and he transplanted them into my fingers. That’s why I still have fingers on my left hand.

     “[At the time], it wasn’t sore because the weight of this hanging form, bouncing on the floor, it sort of numbed my hand and so I didn’t feel any pain. Matter of fact, they wanted to send me up to the hospital but I went home and I took a bath. It was filthy dirty working in the foundry. I took a bath and then went to the hospital.

     “So the pain wasn’t great. But the young doctor who did it, his father had come over from Greece and was a cobbler in the town of Dover, here. This young man had worked his way through college and through medical school. His name is Dr. Demopolous and he now lives down at the end of this street I live on. So I see him all the time, he’s retired.

     “I remember coming out of the anesthesia one time [after one of the surgeries] and I was making this great anti-English speech, roarin’ and shoutin’ and waving my good arm and he thought this was great because Greece and Turkey and Britain were having rows about Cyprus at the time. So he thought this was wonderful.


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