Malachy Towey has been playing Irish music since he was a little boy in Ireland.
So, it only made sense that when the longtime Mt. Greenwood resident celebrated his 99th birthday, he welcomed musicians of all ages for a lively Irish music session at Cork and Kerry Tavern in Beverly on Nov. 23.
Over 50 musicians joined Towey in performing Irish songs. Some of them were beginning musicians; some of them as accomplished as Towey.
“I’m shocked by how many Irish musicians are here tonight,” Towey said. “Chicago has some of the best Irish musicians in the world, and they are all here—all top-shelf, and I love them all.”
Towey formed a music circle with the rest of the musicians and played an array of Irish instrumentals, with Towey performing on the bodhran, an Irish drum, and others playing instruments such as flutes, fiddles, banjos and a harp.
Towey began playing the bodhran when he was about 8 years old while growing up on a farm in Ireland. His family skinned a goat to use for the drum’s cover.
Towey also held a music session for his 90th birthday in 2010 at the Beverly Arts Center, with family and friends joining him for that celebration as well.
He was recently injured after a fall, but that didn’t stop him from celebrating a party billed as the start of his 100th year.
“I’m glad I didn’t pass away after my fall because I would have missed the greatest party of all time,” Towey said. “If I die tomorrow, at least I had a great send-off.”
Towey is a mainstay in the local Irish music scene, performing weekly at Lanigan’s Pub in Mt. Greenwood and Gaelic Park in Oak Forest.
His daughter, Julia McSweeney, of Beverly, and her husband, Tim McSweeney, helped organize the birthday party.
Julia McSweeney said her father was humbled as party-goers hugged him at the end of the night.
The family hopes such events continue to pass of the traditions of Irish music to the next generation.
Many adults brought children to perform, Julia McSweeney said, and other renowned artists joined them.
“So many wonderful musicians turned out,” she said.
Towey is a retired plasterer and owner of Beverly Plastering. He and his late wife raised eight children in Mt. Greenwood after living in Canada, and Cleveland, Ohio, following their arrival from Ireland.
Towey might have left his home country, his family said, but his love for its music never faded.
Party organizers asked guests to not bring birthday presents—just their musical abilities—for a night of songs.
“The Irish music scene is his life,” Tim McSweeney said. “He really looks forward to it. ... That was the perfect gift for him.”