First Packie Duignan Traditional week-end in Drumshanbo

1st Official Packie Duignan Traditional week-end, Drumshanbo, Co. Leitrim

By Deirdre Parnell, PRO Comhaltas Drumshanbo


Drumshanbo, Co. Leitrim would be best known in musical circles as the home of the Joe Mooney Summer School but it has added another string to its bow in the last few years.

Every January for the past 2/3 years there has been a gathering of musicians taking place at the end of January started by Maria Murphy (Dublin) and Sean McCrystal (Derry).  These musicians have come from Belfast, Derry, Donegal, Fermanagh, Longford, Dublin and locally.  It started off as a friendly gathering to have a few tunes after christmas but two years ago we decided to hold the Friday night Session in memory of our local flute player Packie Duignan – known the length and breadth of the country.


In January 2006 there was such a big gathering in Joe Gunnings pub on Friday night that we thought this had the makings of a week-end.   During 2006 the organising committee of Nancy Woods, Padraig McManus, Sven Paetz and Tony Fahy and myself all members of Comhaltas Drumshanbo put together a programme for a week-end of music and workshops (thanks to Comhaltas for funding)  and began to spread the word.   The word spread and spread and there was enormous interest in the week-end. 


Now a bit of information about the man himself.


Packie Duignan (1922-1992) was born in Arigna, Co. Roscommon, close to the border with Co. Leitrim. Although his family liked music, and some of them were singers, none of them played music. The only musician Packie could trace among his ancestors was his grandmother's brother- a flute player called James Cawley.

When Packie was about 12 years old he started to play the tin whistle and, after some time, he moved on to the concert flute, which he continued to play throughout the rest of his life. The most important musical influence in his life was the famous flute player, John McKenna( 1880-1947) who was born and reared in Tents, in the parish of Tarmon, Co. Leitrim, just a few miles from Arigna. McKenna had emigrated to the United States some years before Packie was born, and it was through his gramophone records that Packie heard his music. Packie developed a flute playing style similar to McKenna, a breathy, rhythmic driving style with plenty of lift. He had great admiration for McKenna's flute playing and he got a lot of his repertoire from McKenna's records.


Packie started learning to play on a clarkes whistle while listening to the 78's of John Mckenna. His deep diaphragm driven rhythm was strongly influenced by Mckenna.

From 1958 to 1973 he played in Drumshanbo  based celi band, "Shannon Star". Members of this band were Ned McGowan, Tony McGowan, Kevin Dowler, James Earley and Packie Euignan.

In his later years Packie mostly played in and around Drumshambo, Keadue and Arigna with Seamus Horan and Ciaran Emmett.

Packie made some recordings for topic in the late 1970's which later appeared on a compilation CD, "Irish Traditional Music" by Temple Records. Packie also made many TV and radio appearances.

As PRO of Comhaltas Drumshanbo it fell to me to spread the word but as time went on I began to find it so easy to promote the week-end due in the main to the admiration this man Packie Duignan engendered in everyone I spoke with.   I never met him personally as I started to come to Drumshanbo the year after he died but as the months went I began to get a real sense of a wonderful character with a wry sense of humour, well loved and respected by his fellow musicians.   My PR campaign ended with an hours slot on our local Shannonside Radio programme with Charlie McGettigan who also knew and loved Packie.  We had a host of musicians playing on the programme including Tommy Guihan, Patsy Hanly, Mick Mulvey, Mossie Martin, Padraig Sweeney and his young flute pupils from Drumshanbo and everyone had a story about Packie.

The week-end started on Friday 26th January with an opening ceremony at the Plaque to Packie in by Paddy Ryan, Oifigeach Ceoil C.C.E/Shannonside Radio.   Paddy then set the week-end in motion with a few tunes on the fiddle in Gunnings. 

On Saturday we ran workshops in Flute (Dave Sheridan), Whistle (Padraig Sweeney), Fiddle (Mossie Martin), Bodhran (Junior Davey), Accordian (Rachel McGovern), Sean Nos Dancing (Edwina Guckian).  We kept the tutors local as  Packie was a local and there is  huge pool of talent in the area.    Numbers were high for the workshops with people coming from as far away as Williamstown and Dublin to participate.

Saturday evening was the highlight of the week-end with the Packie Duignan Flute Gathering in Berrys Tavern.  We had asked some musicians who knew Packie to attend and perhaps say a word about him but we were astounded at the huge numbers of musicians (mostly fluters) who turned up.   At one stage half of Ballinagleara was on the stage! And what wonderful music from masters of their craft.   The gathering featured Drumshanbo CCE Group – Padraig, Francie, Sven, Deirdre, Tony, Maria, Sean, mairead and Eamon.  After that we had music from

Drumshanbo CCE Flute Group with tutor Padraig Sweeney and Aisling Hearan, Sinead O’Malley, Aileen Mulvey, Orla Gordon, Edel Feeley and Gavin Sweeney,  The Wards of Ballinamore, Orla, Yvonne, Lisa and Niamh then took the stage followed by the Drumkeerin group of Louise Davitt (relation of Packie) and Cathriona Horan (relation of Seamus Horan), Catherine Gallagher.

After that we had various groupings taken from Dave Sheridan, Sean Gilraine and Friends, Mossie Martin, Mick Mulvey, Rachel McGovern, Lorraine Sweeney, Mairead Kelly, Eamon Dunne, Noel Sweeney , Sean and Nora Thompson, Patsy Hanly, Tommy Guihen, John Wynne, Padraig Sweeney, Seamus Sweeney, paul Wynne, Tom Gleeson, Fiachra O Torna, Frank Jordan, Dan Healy, Junior Davey and if I forgot anyone, well there were just so many there it was difficult to keep track.  There was a wonderful, even emotional feeling to the Gathering and for me the highlight was at the end when Dan Healy and assembled flute players played a set of tunes in memory of Packie preceded by a lovely slow air from Dan.

Sunday was relaxed day with a Boxty Brunch in the Chariot Inn and a big session led by Marcas O Murchu.   Sessions abounded throughout the town for the week-end.

All in all a wonderful week-end and will definitely be repeated. 


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