June McDonnell chats to John Makem, grandson of the traditional singer whose songs travelled the world with her son, Tommy, and the Clancy Brothers, on the 40th anniversary of her death

Sarah was born on 18th October, 1900 and passed away on the 20th April, 1983. During those eighty three years she left a worldwide indelible mark on folk and traditional music.

She was one of a family of seven children born to Margaret Green and Thomas Boyle in Victoria Street, Keady, Co. Armagh.

Sarah was a traditional singer all her life and had a repository of several hundred songs that she learned from her mother, songs that painted a picture of the lives of everyday people in that part of Northern Ireland.
There were songs of love, humorous songs, patriotic songs, rebellious songs, orange songs, all topics were covered as well as songs about local happenings.

One by one all her brothers and sisters emigrated to Dover, New Hampshire, USA where they found work in the wool and cotton mills. They had already gained experience working in the local mills around Keady but emigrated for what they hoped would bring financial rewards and a better life.

Sarah too began work as a weaver in Darkley mill and like the other girls from her area walked the daily round of five miles, often barefoot. She worked from 7.00 am to 6.30pm. When she came home they would often have sessions with many of the other musicians living in the area.

It was at one of these sessions that she first met her husband, fiddle-player, Peter Makem. Sarah sang with her cousin, Annie Jane Kelly, and they were members of their family group ‘The Singing Greenes of Keady’.
Eventually, her siblings in New Hampshire sent Sarah the money to pay for her fare to join them, but thankfully fate intervened.

As she was waiting to purchase her ticket in Belfast she got a tap on the shoulder. It was Peter Makem, the fiddle player, telling her she would be better to forget about going to the New Hampshire, and to come back to Keady with him and get married.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own