Below is an extract from a beautiful piece written by Liz Kett.
Liam was born in Kells, Co. Kilkenny. The youngest of the O’Byrne family, his father Liam senior a Tipperary man, was Principal Teacher at Kells National School and his mother Helena was from the west of Ireland. Music was a big part of the household as Liam’s dad was an accomplished fiddle player who passed on his love of music to his children Gerard, Fintan, Liam and Eileen. A strong tradition of music and the playing of instruments was very much encouraged in the home in Kells and later on in Kilkenny.
Liam played drums and percussion with Mooncoin Ceili Band in his youth, and later on developed a very strong interest in Jazz. As a young man he would listen to music in a very interesting way. He would be listening for all the harmony lines and the percussion side, and this was to lead to developing his own interest in drumming and in harmony vocals in particular. As a child he said he was shy to sing at home at musical evenings but eventually as years went on he and his good friend Sean Hurley and a couple of other pals would sing in vocal groups in Kilkenny, making frequent trips around the country to see the Big Bands like Jim Cantwell and Joe Loss. Liam mentioned that this was to prove somewhat of an annoyance to their girlfriends ‘, as he told me that he and the lads often went to watch the Bands and not to dance with the girls; It was probably a case of ‘’ air saxophone’’ at that stage in the 50’s and 60’s; . He told me the girls eventually let the lads go to the Big Bands on their own.
Liam married his sweetheart, Kilkenny girl, Dymphna Donovan in the early 1960’s and all through the years the family were always so important to him and he was so proud of each one of them. In recent years too he delighted in all of his Grandchildren and in their academic, sporting and musical achievements.
Later in the 80’s Liam made many trips to the Cork Jazz Festival, even developed his skills as an music promoter organising that a young, up and coming talented Kilkenny Jazz group would get several gigs at the prestigious festival. He was well-known to many Kilkenny musicians, supporting and promoting new talent and doing all he could to further their careers in the music world.
It wasn’t only in music entrepreneurship that Liam showed flair, he was very much a pioneer when it came to business ideas also and he was the first to introduce two-way radios to Kilkenny in the 1980’s from his pioneering phone shop in Irishtown. Many Kilkenny people, farmers, clergy, people who needed to be contacted on a frequent basis yet needed to be mobile as the nature of their jobs and vocations dictated, were looked after with two-way radios at O’Byrne Systems, with Conor and Ken helping out and eventually becoming an integral part of the business as time went on.
Liam came to Dungarvan on a special day! It was his birthday, August 8th and the year was 1997. He loved the village from the start and it wasn’t long until he began to use his many talents to help out in the area and after a few years he was nominated and voted in as Chairman of the Dungarvan and District Development Association, a post and a responsibility he took very much to his heart.
Liam had been for many years also, local media correspondent and every week would gather up local news and write his Dungarvan Notes for the Kilkenny People and Kilkenny Reporter. He would always give an eloquent write-up, blessed with a great command of the English language, he was a good man to write a piece or make a speech.
In the past 15 years or so Liam began to get very fond of photography and in 2011 he did a course in digital photography with professional photographer Pat Shortall and did very well at the course. The group had an exhibition at the end of their classes in The Set Theatre in Kilkenny and Liam was very happy with his work which was very much admired. Apart from this foray into the more creative side of photography, many people around Dungarvan/Gowran will have small photo booklets at home made by Liam of the important celebrations.
In the early years in Dungarvan, Liam was very proud to be one of the founding members of the local choir which he adamantly requested should be named “The Cloigin Singers” after the Cloigin Bridge on the Kilmanahan Road. The request was granted by democratic poll! Among the choir members and the choir holds this name since 1999 to today! Liam was a central member of the choir adding so much with his harmonies to the singing and with the congas to the music.
Liam also was very proud of the fact that the first village Christmas tree was organised by himself and local man Jack Bolger and each year people would gather and sing songs and arrange a visit by Santa Claus for the local children and this has become a village tradition since the year 2000.
Liam also was very much involved with the Thursday night Card Game in Dungarvan along with Jack Bolger and Jim McCarthy and this meant that many local people who love their game of cards could continue to do so, which once again is very much part of community and the life blood of rural life, something which was very near to Liam’s heart.
Liam was also a hands-on contributor and founding member of the famous Ouncel Folk Session the 3 Notes would regale the company and were much loved and appreciated for their music by a very tuned-in musical audience. Later on in 2012 they also sang at the Kitchen Sessions in Kilkenny where that same appreciation of their singing was shared. Their three voices blended beautifully as can be heard on the CD they recorded called Evergreens the proceeds of which went to the O’ Neill Centre, Kilkenny. Liam’s bass voice with harmonies, Sean Dooley’s Tenor line and Harmony blended so well with Sean Hurley’s melody line. Liam considered it a great milestone and achievement that The 3 Notes had recorded their CD and he treasured it.
For Liam’s close friends his loss as a confidante, an advisor is a huge one. To be able to drop in, to chat about things, to debate, and we did much debating! – “Is fear troid na uaigneas”… (“Argument is preferable to loneliness”). He enjoyed the cut and thrust of giving an opinion along with lively conversation and company. We had many hours of music debate and chat during the time in Tullaherin, with all the richness of the company there, it always came back to the simple central core of friendship and support and this lasted through all the years, with Liam’s move to live in Gowran.
In writing of Liam we can’t leave out the word fun either!! Much of this was had too, along with so much music, singing and joking around. Liam loved a pint too and he’d like nothing better than one or two at the close of day. The venue might be The Ouncel, Cleeres or Loughlins in the company of his close friends Pat & Kathleen Bolger in Dungarvan and in recent years Jim Lanigan his great friend and neighbour in Gowran all of whom were very dear to Liam.
Liam also gave many years working as part of the team in Dalton House Day care Centre with Fr. Pat Dalton, Mrs Nellie Brett and all the staff and residents.
He worked at the gift shop initially and went on to deliver Meals on Wheels to many elderly people in the county, being the kind, friendly face they looked forward to seeing him daily, come rain, snow or shine!
Liam bore his ill-health very bravely. He never complained and always remained extremely positive and in fact never would have used the word illness, he saw it as more of a challenge.
A very independent and self-sufficient person, he would never impose on others, remaining quiet and unassuming all through what must have been for him a very difficult period with quite a number of hospital visits and stays.
All through, his family Caroline, Ailis, Lianne, Conor, Ken and his brother Gerard were his solace. He very much enjoyed telling his friends about his days out ad visits to the family, proud as punch as he was of all of them, his grandchildren and great grand-child.
Family, music and friendship have always been the key components in Liam’s life and they are the aspects of life that Liam held dear. We, his friends can testify to that and we all were the richer for knowing Liam and for having had him in our lives. Close friends Seoirse and Noelle, Ann Moloney (Limerick) Liz Kett, the late William Kett, Ronan Kett, Frank Muldowney, Pat Bolger, Jim Lanigan, Sean Hurley and Sean Dooley enjoyed wonderful times in Liam’s company down through the years since we all met. The craic was mighty!
Looking back on the times since 1997 here in Dungarvan, and Liam would have said it too, in truth, It was the Best of Times!