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Relatively Speaking: Peter Makem

John Makem, who lives in Armagh with his wife Maura, is the organiser of the Bard Of Armagh storytelling festival. His brother Peter lives in Newry with his wife Catherine and is the organiser of the Tommy Makem Festival of Song

Name: Peter Makem Age: 67

Occupation: Author and organiser of the Tommy Makem Festival of Song

Relationship: Brother of John

I'm the oldest of five boys – there were eight children in our family. We grew up in a ceilidh house. Every night there would be musicians and singers coming over. There's a big tradition of music in our family – I took up the tin whistle and most of us learned some instrument. John didn't though, he started telling stories instead.

Back in those days we got up to the kind of mischief that boys usually indulge in. We would have robbed orchards of apples. There was a bit of smuggling in the area too – it was that kind of time and we lived close to the border. The smuggling went both ways back and forth over the border – things like cigarettes, food and eggs.

John and I went off to do different things – he stayed in Armagh and I moved to Newry. I was quite into sport and for a time managed the Armagh GAA football team.

It was John who started the festivals. He wanted to keep the tradition of storytelling alive so he began the gathering of the bards in Armagh. People come from every tradition of storytelling from all over the world and give a reading. It's been going on for 20 years now.

Because John was the storyteller I wanted to make sure we also had a festival for the musical traditions of our family so we called it the Tommy Makem Festival of Song. Tommy was our uncle who emigrated to America and became an actor and singer.

He was best known for touring with The Clancy Brothers. Throughout that time, he would still come home to us and play in the sessions at our house – they would come for miles around to hear him. Although John looks after the gathering of the bards and I look after the Tommy Makem Festival of Song, we're both very involved with both events. John acts as the MC at the Festival of Song. He's a storyteller that can bring an event like that together in a way no one else can. He's very reliable and intelligent and comes up with great ideas."

Name: John Makem Age: 63

Occupation: Author of the Bard of Armagh Festival

Relationship: Brother of Peter

Peter, our brother Eddie and myself always knocked around together. We had a couple of other brothers but they were younger and had their own friends.

Peter was always fascinated by facts and figures. He always liked to know sporting statistics and the names of the stars or how old something was. We never got any sleep at night because he wouldn't turn off the light in the room we shared. He was always reading the Reader's Digest or Time Magazine. I'd say that was quite unusual for a lad of 13 back then.

When we were a little older we would go to the cinema in Keady – four miles from the family home. We would walk there and back and not think anything of it. On clear nights Peter would tell us about the stars and when it was icy we would slide our way home.

From my earliest memory I can remember going over to sleep – or blanket street as we would call it – to the sound of music in the distance. Everyone in our house was musical. My father played the fiddle and people used to come from all over to record my grandmother Sarah's singing.

When the sessions were taking place my parents would serve fresh bread and hand-churned butter. There were people who would show up just to get a mug of buttermilk.

Peter took up the tin whistle and learned to play the banjo too.

Eddy and I tried our hands at the instruments but put them down again when we couldn't play them immediately. We weren't interested in learning how to play them properly.

Now Peter and I help each other to run the festivals. We're on the phone to each other three or four times a week, as he lives in Newry these days.

Peter will never, ever put you in the wrong. Every bit of advice he gives you is well thought out and spot on.

* Internationally renowned folk musician Tommy Makem was born and raised in Keady, Co Armagh.

* Tommy played the long-necked five-string banjo, guitar, tin whistle and bagpipes. He was known for his storytelling and witty humour and was often dubbed the 'Bard of Armagh'.

* The Tommy Makem Festival of Song takes place from October

3-5. A major highlight includes a lecture by Dr John Moulden called The Protestant Contribution to Irish Traditional Music, followed by traditional music.

* The Bard of Armagh Festival of Humorous Verse takes place on November 22.

For further details go to www.armagh.co.uk

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