Photograph by Doc Rowe
Photograph by Doc Rowe

Many of you will know that Packie Byrne died on May 12th. He was 98 years old and had been in poor health for some time.

Born in Donegal in 1917, Packie worked on his family’s farm before expanding his horizons working at a variety of jobs as well as being a musician and actor. He was 58 when he came to wider attention in the UK with the release of his album Songs Of A Donegal Man and the beginning of his partnership with singer and harpist Bonnie Shaljean.

Those of us lucky enough to see and hear him perform or meet him knew what a character he was – an accomplished musician with a skill at telling a wild tale and a sense of fun second to none. I can do no better than to quote the announcement of his death posted by his musical partner and great friend, Bonnie Shaljean:

It is with the greatest sorrow that I have to tell you all that Packie Manus slipped away from us this evening at about half six (Greenwich time). He went peacefully, and I know in his last days, life had become a burden to him because he could no longer see or hear to any great extent, nor move about.

He told me often that his time in the folk scene were the best days of his life, and I need to pass this along to everyone who knew him, and who helped this to be so.

The wake will be held in his little house in Drumaghy Park (No. 12), and the funeral is on Friday May 15th at 11:00 a.m. in the Catholic church in Ardara (County Donegal), with interment to follow in the family plot at the church in Bruckless.

Dear, dear Packie – Rest In Peace

Read Derek Schofield’s obituary of Packie at:

Towersey Festival: 50 Years In The Making

New book celebrates half-century of much-loved Oxfordshire festival

The celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of Towersey Festival continue with the publication of a new book.

Towersey 50Featuring 300 photographs, stories from festival-goers and interviews with many individuals who’ve shaped the much-loved annual event, Towersey Festival: 50 Years In The Making traces the festival’s history from its small-scale beginnings as a one day event in 1965, to its current position as one of the most significant and popular events in the annual folk festival diary.

Beginning with a brief history of the village, the book also includes newspaper reports and reviews, plus profiles of many of the key artists and acts who’ve entertained audiences, from Pam Ayres, Dave and Toni Arthur and the Cock And Bull Band, to Show Of Hands, Bellowhead, Eliza Carthy and Australia’s hairy Spooky Men’s Chorale. There are also contributions from regular attendees, who’ve grown up with, and been inspired by, the festival, turning annual attendance into a longstanding family tradition.

“The festival set out as a fundraising event to rescue the decaying Towersey Village Memorial Hall – a building that commemorated the 14 men who had lost their lives in the First World War,” writes author Derek Schofield. “In that first year (1965), it was a one-day village fete with morris dancing and a folk singing session in the pub barn. Its success can be measured by the money raised, the enjoyment of the day by the village residents and visitors, and by the fact that, in the following year, a three-day event was held.”

That second three-day event, attended by a few hundred people, has since spread over five days, and now attracts over 10,000 visitors to the Oxfordshire village. Discussing the festival’s appeal and longevity, Festival Patron Roy Bailey states: “Children play safely and many lifelong friendships have been developed here. People met here and got married here and generations of families return every year.”

Visiting the 1966 festival, the Thame Gazette asserted that Towersey was the ‘little village with the big ideas’. Towersey Festival: 50 Years In The Making shows those initial ideas have never lost their appeal.

Author Derek Schofield is a freelance writer and a former college manager. He edits the folk magazine, English Dance and Song, and has written on many aspects of the history of the folk music and dance revivals.

Derek Schofield’s Towersey Festival: 50 Years In The Making is published on 23 July 2014 by Mrs Casey Music Ltd, and is available priced £20 (plus £5 P&P) from: Copies can also be purchased at the 50th festival, which runs from Thursday 21 to Monday 25 August 2014, and includes performances from Richard Thompson, The Bootleg Beatles and Seth Lakeman, plus a celebration of 75 Years of Topic Records with Eliza Carthy and special guests.

Towersey Festival: 50 Years In The Making by Derek Schofield
Price: £20
Publisher: Mrs Casey Music Ltd
Publication Date: Wednesday 23 July 2014
ISBN: 978-0-9547502-1-3