There was widespread sadness in traditional music circles and in the greater community of south and west Donegal at the passing of Packie Manus Byrne one of the county’s greatest musicians and storytellers.
Packie, 98, was one of the best loved of the Irish singers and musicians who became part of the British folk scene.
A highly skilled musician on the tin whistle, Packie was also a singer, with a repertoire that ranged from humorous songs to classic ballads, and a storyteller with a wealth of tales from his native Donegal.
Packie Manus was born in Corkermore, Dunkineely on February 17, 1916. He was the youngest of four children. His parents were Conal and Maria Byrne.
He received his early education at Croagh National School and after performing in a concert in McDyre’s Hall at the age of 6, he decided that singing and entertaining was what he wished to do in life. The thought of being an entertainer was one that had captivated the mind of the talented six-year-old.
His parents both sang traditional songs and neighbours would visit for evenings of music, singing and dancing.
It was at that fireside that Packie sat and learned his repertoire of songs and tunes.
Packie left school at the tender age of 14 and like many young men went to work on the family farm.
At twenty years of age, he made the first of his many visits to England, working in a variety of jobs – at Corby’s steelworks, the railways in Kettering and as a Betterware salesman and later established a great musical career performing in all the top folk clubs in England.
Last week many tributes were paid to Packie. Fiddler Martin McGinley said: “Packie Manus Byrne was a marvellous character, a fine musician, a composer of songs and tunes, and a master storyteller. He was very generous with his talents, his songs and his tunes over a long life.”
Charlie McHugh of Nancy’s Bar, Ardara commented: “The town of Ardara has lost a great man. A wonderful story teller, writer and musician, well known to people near and far. Packie Manus Byrne was a unique and treasured member of our community and he will be well remembered and sadly missed.”
Packie was laid to rest in Bruckless cemetery after mass in the Church of the Holy Family in Ardara.
* First published May 18th in the Donegal Democrat/People’s Press.