Academic journal article Folk Music Journal

Packie Manus Byrne (1917-2015)

Academic journal article Folk Music Journal

Packie Manus Byrne (1917-2015)

Article excerpt

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Entering the name 'Packie Manus Byrne' in the Irish Traditional Music Archive's database will furnish a user with lists of recordings, images, words he has written, and words written about him. These publicly documented accounts tell of a life filled with colour and movement, and of a unique musical talent shared generously over the course of his years.

Packie was the youngest of four children born to Connell and Maria Byrne in 1917. Their life in the townland of Corkermore in south-west Donegal was hand to mouth, eking out a frugal existence through farming, cutting turf, and seasonal work in Scotland. Music, singing, dancing, and storytelling formed the social fabric of this airal twentieth-century community, a soundscape that opened a door to Packie's lifetime as an entertainer. From the late 1930s, he moved between Ireland and England, working in steelworks, factories, on the railways, as a labourer, a smuggler, cattle drover, and salesman. Packie was not the settling type and took opportunities as they arose to earn enough to see him through.

Singing, yarning, busking, and tin-whistle playing were woven through this journeying life, but it was the 1960s British folk revival that gave Packie a platform for his many and varied talents. A chance opportunity to perform at Cecil Sharp House in 1964 led to invitations to festivals and folk clubs all over Britain. As a seasoned entertainer, Packie sang humorous parodies, could play four tin whistles at a time, feign pathos, and tell very tall tales. The actor, who almost trod the boards of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin and eventually starred in Ken Loach's Black Jack, was never far from the surface. But this man also delivered and recorded fine ballads such as 'The Holland Handkerchief' and 'Molly Bawn'. The tune-book A Dossan of Heather transcribes jigs, airs, mazurkas, and highlands learned from family and musical friends. …

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