manusA man of many parts – Packie Manus Byrne

As a young lad working in the Hotel in the late seventies and early eighties, I was always intrigued as I made my way over home, I often met this old man on the Hillhead. He reminded me of everyones granduncle, Grandfather or a lovely old neighbour. As the years went by I’d come to realise that man was more than just any ordinary person. Later, I was to know that Packie Manus was on the Hillhead because of the caring of Peter Oliver and Packie McGinley. At a low time in Packie’s life when the excitment of the folk scene in Britain had diminished, Peter and Packie convinced Packie Manus to return to Ireland, that in itself was an achievement as Packie was a very independent man. As the years passed we were all to realise the significance of Packie Manus’s contribution. As all these amazing musicians descended on Ardara on a regular basis we were to realise the awe in which Packie Manus was held by these visitors.

Packie Manus was from a farming background but he was never to be a farmer. Though he did his bit as a farmer and as a drover especially when his brother died. Packie had many wonderful stories of his days on the folk circuit and all these friends especially the who were independant minded people but they all truely loved Packie Manus and that was obvious the weekend of the wake and funeral. The humour and wit was out of them all as they said goodbye to their hero. Though we all know his time was coming to an end.

In the “Cup of Tae” Festival, we were so pleased that he was the special guest of honour in 2003. Indeed, so many wanted to come and honour him, we had to make difficult choices as to who would be there. The famous Davie Hammond from the BBC was a must to be there as MC and he did a great job and Packie Manus was in great form that night. It was also great that his cousins Anna Maria and Dr McCloskey were there to be part of that special night and his friends from Corkermore were also there.

Indeed we always have a special Packie Manus Concert at every “Cup of Tae” Festival in his honour. It is a funny Concert because our long serving MC for the night James Keeney never knows who is going to turn up and always starts the Packie Manus Concert by doing a few tunes on the accordian himself and hope others arrive and they do and it is always a great night, just like a Packie Manus night should be.

I alway went to invite Packie Manus to the Concert each year and typical me I would leave the invite late and Packie would always say to me “your a bit late asking me and I did’ny think i’ll make it this year”. But invariable he always turned up and he would put on a great show. Indeed, Hilda always thought Packie Manus’s Concert was the highlight of the Festival. Also our nights on the Packie Keeney Shows prior to the “Cup of Tae” Festival was always a great event with Packie Manus and the Campbells. Nights to remember..

Packei Manus could tell stories like no one else and I remember since while he was quite sick in Killybegs Hospital, he told me that his severe head pains were caused as he was a guinea pig in an experiment to find who much noise the head could take in the cockpit of a plane during the war. The story was sincere and on my way home I was wondering was this genuine or a great story. You never knew with Packie.

As I was leaving Killybegs on the Tuesday he died I decided to return to see how Packie Manus was and as I visited him it was very appropriate that Eileen was sitting at his bedside, something she had done many times. Indeed we all know Packie Manus’s life was extended by many years because of the wonderful care Packie received from Packie, Eileen, Teresa and all the extended Keeney family. Indeed, Ann Heena and all the home help s were also very good to him over the years. Also on that final Tuesday as Eileen watched and waited, it was appropriate that Eugene Meehan and Martin Wilson sat on either side of the bed. They were devastated as their hero was slowly passing away. And it was appropriate that Eugene should sing “Bruckless Bay”, a song composed for him by Packie Manus and the words were so apt as we laid Packie Manus to rest in Bruckless graveyard.

It was very appropriate that Peter Alexander should show the film he made about Packie Manus on the occasion of his 90th birthday after the funeral in the Corner House. The film was very funny but also much much sadness. There was so much to Packie Manus even at the funeral I remarked on the lovely pin stripped suit he wore and I was told he wore that suit on the occasion of the wedding of Princess Margaret and Lord Snowden. This meant so much to Packie Manus and it is fair to say that he was never really appreciated in his own Country. He was an Irishman of great significance.

As the crowds left after the Film it was a special moment in life for me as Packie Manus’s grand nephew Pauric Keeney did the most beautiful rendering of the “Boys of Corkermore”. Allied with the beautiful fiddle playing of Peter Campbell, this truly was a moment in time and I do hope we can convince Pauric to sing some of Packie Manus’s songs in the time ahead and we know Cliona Heena will always keep the songs of Packie Manus alive.

Truly the end of an era, an institution in his own lifetime probably never really appreciated in this Country. An Irishman of great distinction.

“God bless Packie Manus”

Feb 1917 to May 2015

Stephen McCahill