Donegal traditional musician, singer, tin whistle player and storyteller

Packie Manus Byrne: February 18th, 1917 - May 12th, 2015

Packie Manus Byrne, who has died aged 98, was a traditional musician who wore the tradition lightly. He was primarily a singer, but also a tinwhistle player and a storyteller. Byrne knew the old songs of his native southwest Donegal, having played with musicians who had grown up in the 19th century.

He could perform equally well on a concert stage or in a small session. He could write songs in the traditional style and he could tell a story, either serious or lighthearted.

Byrne was born in February 1917 in the townland of Corker More, about half-way between Killybegs and Ardara, the youngest of the four children of Connell Byrne, a small farmer, and his wife, Maria (née Gallagher).

At 19 he emigrated to England. There he worked in many jobs, including as a railwayman and circus hand. From time to time he returned to Ireland. During one spell back at home he worked for a cattle dealer and used to walk cattle from Pettigo in south Donegal to Derry, and then accompany them on the boat to Scotland.


In the late 1950s he contracted tuberculosis; the illness cost him a lung.

Film role

His recovery from illness coincided with a revival of interest in traditional music. From the mid-1960s on he was a fixture on the English folk circuit. He also acted in the

Ken Loach


Black Jack

, which won the Critics’ Award at Cannes in 1979.

In the late 1980s he retired to Donegal, where a steady stream of visitors made their way to his home in Ardara. As he aged, he developed breathing difficulties, but he was not the kind of man to let a minor problem like not being able to breathe stop him singing: he changed his style so he could draw breath and continue singing almost to the end.

He is survived by his nephews and nieces.