Obituary: James Carey Gilroy, festival co-founder

James Carey Gilroy, farmer and festival co-founder. Picture: Contributed
James Carey Gilroy, farmer and festival co-founder. Picture: Contributed
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Popular farmer who co-founded the successful Wickerman festival near Kirkcudbright

James Carey Gilroy, farmer and festival co-founder.

Born: 22 March, 1948, in Broughton.

Died: 19 December, 2014, in Dundrennan near Kirkudbright, aged 66.

To many in Dumfries and Galloway, Jamie Gilroy was a well-known local farmer, running his East Kirkcarswell livestock farm in Dundrennan near Kirkcudbright. To many more though, across Scotland and much further afield, he was well known for an altogether different reason. In late July, each year since 2001, Jamie hosted the acclaimed Wickerman Festival, welcoming thousands of music fans to his land to enjoy what is today regarded as one of the finest music festivals in the UK.

Jamie, who died last December at the age of 66, was born in Broughton in the Borders, the son of Evelyn Carey Gilroy and Group Captain George Gilroy – a distinguished RAF pilot who brought down the first German plane on British soil in the Second World War. The family later moved to Crofts in the small Dumfries and Galloway village of Kirkpatrick Durham with his younger brother Piet and sister Gillian (now Laurie). Jamie also had two older half-brothers and a half-sister.

Jamie was educated in Edinburgh, first at Cargilfield and then at Fettes College. His years at Fettes, and in particular in Moredun House, were to be the most formative of his young life and several “Moredun Men” became Jamie’s lifelong friends.

He went on to study agriculture at Edinburgh University. However, in his late teens, his wanderlust and adventurous spirit led to an early departure from his course, accompanied by a one-way ticket to Australia. He relished the lifestyle Down Under, spending a number of years touring the country and taking on a variety of jobs to fund his travels – at sheep stations, down mines and even a stint working for the Australian government in Darwin.

Jamie returned to the UK to study for a year at Cirencester Agricultural College before going home to Galloway, meeting and then marrying Patsy in 1974. He took over the running of Patsy’s family farm, Kirkcarswell, where they raised their two children, Jennie and George (who died tragically aged 19 in a car accident in Moora, Western Australia).

Alongside running the family farm, Jamie was an active and respected member of his local community. He was chairman of the Dundrennan Community Council and was appointed as Deputy Lord Lieutenant of the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright in 2012.

He was a founder member of the Rerrick Harriers and a keen supporter of the Dumfriesshire Hunt. Jamie represented his father each year at the Lord Dowding Commemorative Service, held annually in Moffat to mark the RAF’s achievements in the Battle of Britain. He also travelled widely in Africa, reaching the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro on 15 January, 2006 with Patsy and a few friends.

Jamie would himself have admitted that he was an unlikely candidate for director of a music festival. But the Wickerman Festival stemmed from a need to diversify the farm’s activities. Providing land and financial backing for the event was no mean feat – but he wanted the challenge, even after advice from Glastonbury’s Michael Eavis about just how all-consuming a music festival can become.

Wickerman did indeed take over a large part of Jamie’s life but he was glad of it, as he saw it grow year on year and gain an enviable reputation for its relaxed, family-friendly atmosphere and independent spirit. It appealed to everyone, with the remote setting and vibrant blend of international and Scottish music giving it a winning edge.

The line-up dazzled with its diversity. Primal Scream, Scissor Sisters, Nile Rogers and Chic, Dizzee Rascal, Young Fathers, The Beat, Texas, Teenage Fanclub, the Proclaimers, and even the local Creetown Silver Band all took pride of place on the bill, bringing so many memorable live performances over the years.

Jamie was always the perfect host, personally welcoming artists to the farm and going to great lengths to ensure they all had the greatest of times at Wickerman – both onstage and off.

Over the years he even snuck bands off site to visit his favourite local beauty spots, although one such escapade to a secret beach resulted in a bad jelly fish sting for the drummer of the Scissor Sisters.

This warm and personal approach to both artists and music fans was all part of Wickerman’s charm. And while an expert team delivered each aspect of the festival’s organisation, Jamie was at the helm. When challenges arose, from a broken cash machine to a tearful bride having second thoughts about her festival wedding, Jamie was on hand with his indomitable can-do spirit and enthusiasm – always dressed in the flamboyant festival Tweed waistcoat he was so well known for.

It was often remarked upon that Jamie was blissfully unware of just what he had achieved with the Wickerman Festival, especially when combined with the year-round demands of the farm.

He reserved his praise for the festival team, sending out hand-written letters just days after each year’s event closed, filled with thanks and sometimes observations about improving things for next year. As always, Jamie liked to do things his way with character, style and a belief in old-fashioned manners.

Jamie was also behind the set-up of Rerrick Events, the charitable arm of the festival, and he vigorously raised money each year to support a number of causes, primarily the education of a young Tanzanian orphan James Okeyo through activities at the festival’s popular children’s area.

As lifelong friend, fellow farmer and Moredun man John Gray recalls: “Jamie was a practical man who turned out to be a stalwart in society.

“Farming in Kirkudbrightshire is very much sheep and cattle grazing, however, Jamie really enjoyed getting the Wickerman festival going in the anticipation that the whole community would benefit.

“Jamie loved the countryside and country sports. As a friend, I recall wonderful holidays in Torridon stalking stags in inaccessible places. And in Africa, where we caught black marlin and sailfish, tagging them and releasing them, before heading to the bar to celebrate.

“At Auchencairn on the last day of 2014, we gathered with family and other close friends to say goodbye to Jamie Gilroy. He will be greatly missed by Patsy and Jennie, and by so many others, the extent of which would be a surprise to him. A loyal friend and a good man.”

A memorial service will be held for Jamie at Kirkcudbright Parish Church on Saturday, 31 January at 12 noon, to which all are most welcome.

CONTRIBUTED