A Brief History of the All-Ireland Pipe Band Championships

Saturday sees this important pipe band competition being held at  Lurgan, Northern Ireland. Here our correspondent in the Province, John Kelly (left), RSPBANI Honorary Vice-President, takes a look back at the championship. John acknowledges that much of what is below has been compiled largely from an article by the late Fred Walker, former President of the Northern Ireland Branch of the RSPBA. The picture above is of the Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band in 1989. This band holds the record for the most wins in Grade 1 at the All-Irelands….

Pipe bands were being formed all over Northern Ireland in the mid-1940s following the Second World War.  They became members of the NI Bands Association, which held contests in the Ulster Hall and Grosvenor Hall during the winter months.  It soon became evident that pipe bands were more suitable for outdoor contests held on grass, so it was decided to form a pipe band league.

Wheels were put in motion and a meeting was called in 1945 with nine bands being present namely: Annahilt, Upper Crossgare, Ballycoan, Sydenham, Dromara, East Belfast, McQuiston Memorial, Ballynahinch and Drumlough.  The officers elected were as follows:  Chairman – David Nelson (Sen.) of Dromara, Vice-Chairman – Eddie McVeigh of Ballynahinch, Secretary – Tom Hart of Sydenham, and Treasurer – Norman Bradley of Dromara.  Meetings were held on the last Thursday of each month.

It was also in 1945 that a pipe band league was formed in Eire and it was decided that efforts should be made to arrange a meeting between the two leagues with a view to holding All-Ireland Pipe Band Championships.  The meeting took place in the Adelphi Hotel, Belfast, on Saturday 25thApril 1946.  The North was represented by P/M Sam McManus, P/M Mickey Magee, John Drennan, Eddie McVeigh and Tom Hart with P/M Paddy Sloan and Peadar Wallace from the South.  The main item of business was to establish All-Ireland Championships for pipe bands.

The poster announcing the first All-Ireland pipe band championship

The first All-Ireland Pipe Band contest was held in the Iveagh Gardens, Dublin, on Saturday 24th August 1946.  There were three grades, Junior, Intermediate and Senior. There were ten entries in Junior and Intermediate and six in the Senior Grade.

The All-Ireland Championships are held north and south in alternate years and are organised by a committee with five personnel each from the Irish Pipe Band Association and the Northern Ireland Branch of the RSPBA. In the early days the competition was confined to bands from throughout Ireland, but the rules were changed in the 1980s to allow overseas bands to compete. This has had the desired effect as it attracted bands from Scotland, England, Isle of Man, Canada, USA, Australia and New Zealand.



The All-Ireland title left these shores for the first time when Scottish Power were winners in 2000.  Pipe Major Richard Parkes and his Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band have won the Grade 1 title 23 times, a record which will most likely never be equalled.  Other multiple winners are Fintan Lalor (nine), Armstrong Memorial (nine), Ballycoan (seven), Cullybackey (five), St Laurence O’Toole (five), McNeillstown (four) and St Patrick’s, Donaghmore (two).

This brief history of the All-Ireland Pipe Band Championships is largely compiled from an article written in 2005 by the late Fred Walker, the then President of the NI Branch. The report was published in the 60th anniversary souvenir programme that same year.  This further updated report (2017) was previously updated in 2015 by Winston Pinkerton (current President of the NI Branch) and published in the souvenir programme for the 70th anniversary of the All-Ireland Pipe Band Championships held in Omagh on Saturday 4th July 2015.

Regrettably Fred Walker died in March 2016.  Fred, who was well known throughout the whole pipe band fraternity, retired as RSPBANI President in November 2014 and Winston Pinkerton had the honour of being his successor. Fred had over 69 years involvement with pipe bands and had devotedly served the Northern Ireland Branch as Secretary for thirty-seven years and then as President for nine years.

The late Fred Walker

Fred Walker concluded his 2005 report by paying tribute to two gentlemen for the impact they have had on the pipe band movement in Ireland, namely the late, great Eddie McVeigh MBE from Ballynahinch and the redoubtable PJ Berrill from Dublin.  Fred said, ‘They have both left behind a wonderful legacy for us all to follow’.

It has been a pleasure for me to further update Fred Walker’s brief history and I would like to thank Gilbert Cromie, George Taylor, Richard Parkes, Darren Frew and Brian Hasson who provided me with both old and new photographs for use in this updated version.



All-Ireland Grade 1 Champions:
1946 ……..Fintan Lalor, Dublin – lveagh Gardens, Dublin
1947 ……..Fintan Lalor, Dublin – Balmoral, Belfast
1948 ……..Fintan Lalor, Dublin – lveagh Gardens, Dublin

The Fintan Lalor pipe band in 1938

1949 ……..Dromara, Co. Down – Balmoral, Belfast
1950 ……..Fintan Lalor, Dublin – Landsdowne Rd.
1951 ……..Ballycoan, Belfast – Balmoral, Belfast
1952 ……..Ballycoan, Belfast – lveagh Gardens, Dublin
1953 ……..Ballycoan, Belfast – Portadown
1954 ……..Fintan Lalor, Dublin – Harold’s Cross, Dublin
1955 ……..Ballycoan, Belfast – Balmoral, Belfast
1956 ……..Ballycoan, Belfast – Harold’s Cross, Dublin
1957 ……..Ballycoan, Belfast – Mourneview Park, Lurgan
1958 ……..St Laurence O’Toole – Harold’s Cross, Dublin
1959 ……..Ballycoan, Belfast – Windsor Park, Belfast

Ballycoan in the 1950s

1960 ……..Fintan Lalor, Dublin – Santry Stadium, Dublin
1961 ……..29th Old Boys, Belfast – Balmoral, Belfast
1962 ……..Fintan Lalor, Dublin – Harold’s Cross, Dublin
1963 ……..Fintan Lalor, Dublin – Showgrounds, Newry
1964 ……..Fintan Lalor, Dublin – Harold’s Cross, Dublin
1965 ……..Quinn Memorial – Showgrounds, Banbridge
1966 ……..Robert Armstrong Mem. – Musgrave Park, Cork

Robert Armstrong Memorial in 1966

1967 ……..Ballynahinch, Co Down –  Lisburn
1968 ……..St Patrick’s, Donaghmore – Oriel Park, Dundalk
1969 ……..Robert Armstrong Mem. – Banbridge
1970 ……..Robert Armstrong (Silver Jubilee) – Trinity College, Dublin
1971 ……..Robert Armstrong Mem. – Newcastle, Co. Down
1972 ……..St Patrick’s, Donaghmore – Newcastle, Co. Down
1973 ……..Robert Armstrong Mem. – Donard Park, Newcastle
1974 ……..Robert Armstrong Mem. – Tralee, Co. Kerry
1975 ……..Robert Armstrong Mem. – Banbridge Hockey Grounds
1976 ……..Robert Armstrong Mem. – Rathcoole, Co Dublin
1977 ……..Robert Armstrong Mem. – Newcastle, Co Down
1978 ……..Cullybackey – New Ross, Co Wexford
1979 ……..Cullybackey – Chambers Park, Craigavon
1980 ……..Cullybackey – Showgrounds, Cork

Cullybackey at the All-Irelands in 1981

1981 ……..Cullybackey – Chambers Park, Craigavon
1982 ……..McNeillstown – Blackrock College, Dublin
1983 ……..Cullybackey – Lurgan Rugby Club
1984 ……. McNeillstown – Dublin Airport Sports Grounds
1985 ……..Royal Ulster Constabulary – Newcastle, Co Down
1986 ……..McNeillstown – Raphoe, Co Donegal
1987 ……..McNeillstown – Newcastle, Co Down
1988 ……..Graham Memorial – Dalkey, Co Dublin

McNeillstown in 1988, P/M Frank Andrews far left

1989 ……..Field Marshal Montgomery – Newcastle, Co Down
1990 ……..Field Marshal Montgomery – St Brigid’s Park, Kildare
1991 ……..Field Marshal Montgomery – Lisburn, Co Antrim
1992 ……..Field Marshal Montgomery – ALSAA Club, Dublin Airport
1993 ……..Field Marshal Montgomery – Newcastle, Co Down
1994 ……..Field Marshal Montgomery – Kikenny Castle
1995 ……..Field Marshal Montgomery – Newcastle, Co Down
1996 ……..Field Marshal Montgomery – Kilkenny Castle
1997 ……..Field Marshal Montgomery – Kilbroney Park
1998 ……..Field Marshal Montgomery – Kikenny Castle
1999 ……..Field Marshal Montgomery – Newcastle, Co Down
2000 ……..Scottish Power – Kilkenny Castle
2001 ……..Field Marshal Montgomery – Omagh, Co Tyrone
2002…….. Field Marshal Montgomery – Kikenny Castle
2003 ……..Field Marshal Montgomery – Newcastle, Co Down
2004 ……..Field Marshal Montgomery – Letterkenny, Co Donegal
2005…….Field Marshal Montgomery – Newcastle
2006….…Field Marshal Montgomery – Letterkenny, Co Donegal

St Laurence O’Toole in May 2015. The band has won the All-Ireland’s five times: 1958, 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2014

2007…….St Laurence O’Toole – Newcastle, Co Down
2008…….St Laurence O’Toole – Ennis, Co Clare
2009…….Field Marshal Montgomery – Lisburn, Co Antrim
2010…….St Laurence O’Toole – Ballina, Co Mayo
2011…….Field Marshal Montgomery – Lisburn, Co Antrim
2012…….Field Marshal Montgomery – Ballina, Co Mayo
2013……..Field Marshal Montgomery – Londonderry
2014……..St Laurence O’Toole – New Ross, Wexford
2015……..Field Marshal Montgomery – Omagh
2016……..Field Marshal Montgomery – Malahide