Clancy, William (‘Willie’) (1918–73), musician, was born 25 December 1918 in Moy, Miltown Malbay, Co. Clare, into the large family of Gilbert Clancy, carpenter and musician, from Islandbawn, and Ellen Clancy (née Killeen), from an Ennistymon family renowned for their singing ability. Educated at Miltown Malbay national school before taking up the trade of carpentry, Clancy was steeped in music from an early age. His mother sang and played the concertina, and when he began playing the tin whistle at the age of four he was influenced by his father, a flute and concertina player, to emulate the famous blind piper from Inagh, Garrett Barry (d. 1899). After the tin whistle he took up the flute, which he played to a high standard until losing his teeth later in life. Though he was also a competent fiddle player, it was as an uilleann piper that he was most famous. He first saw the pipes played by the travelling piper Johnny Doran (qv) at the Miltown races (1936). He was so excited by this rare and expensive instrument that he and his lifelong friend Martin Talty travelled around Clare listening to Doran. In 1938 he purchased his first set of pipes from Doran's brother Felix. By 1947 he entered and won the Oireachtas piping competition.
A scarcity of carpentry work forced him to move to Dublin (1951), where he met and collaborated musically with Leo Rowsome (qv) and some of his students. In 1953 economic circumstances necessitated a further move to London, where he met Séamus Ennis (qv), who became a close friend, having a profound effect on his music and interesting him in the Irish language. He returned to Miltown Malbay on the death of his father (1957), getting a job at O'Halloran Brothers. His reputation was growing and he became the focal point for large gatherings of traditional-music enthusiasts in Miltown Malbay each summer. Ennis and another close friend, Seán Ó Riada (qv), were frequent visitors, as were young musicians such as Liam Óg Ó Floinn. In addition to piping he entertained with a large repertoire of songs and stories collected through his interest in folklore. Copying and preserving Irish-language manuscripts, including a version of the ‘Midnight court’ of Brian Merriman (qv), is evidence of a long-standing family fascination with folklore.
Clancy collected and recorded energetically during this period, and broadcast on radio (which he preferred) and television. He adjudicated at competitions throughout the country and was a founder member of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann. Promotion of traditional music was important to him, but the elitist nature of piping encouraged his purist leanings, which objected to what he saw as the growth of an ‘undesirable element’ with ‘an abuse of tambourines and guitars’. In 1968 he was a founder member of Na Píobairí Uilleann, with the aim of advancing the playing and making of Irish pipes. He was fascinated by the craft of pipe-making and had assembled a workshop at his home before his death at Merlin Park Hospital, Galway, 24 January 1973.
He married (1962) Doirin Healy, whose great-aunt had been married to Garret Barry's brother. They lived at Flag Rd, Miltown Malbay.