Pipe Major Richard Parkes MBE was in the spotlight earlier this month when on Monday 1st July he was the recipient of an Honorary Doctorate of Literature for services to music from Queens University, Belfast (QUB), and then three days later on Thursday 4th July he received a second and similar Honorary Doctorate from the University of Ulster.
The respect that he is held in, particularly by the members of his band, was reflected by five pipers from Field Maershal Montgomery being present to pipe their leader on the lawn of QUB.
Born in Killyleagh, County Down, Richard started his pipe band career along with his drummer brother Gordon with the nearby Raffrey Pipe Band before connecting up with the Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band during a competition amalgamation when both bands competed under the name Freymont.
Eventually in 1975 the Field Marshal Montgomery was able to compete as a sole entity and in 1981 he became Pipe Major three years after Gordon had taken on the Leading Drummer position.
Some thirty eight years later a magnificent 12 World Pipe Band Championships wins have been achieved on top of 14 RSPBA Champion of Champions titles and 55 other RSPBA Major Championship wins: That does not include 25 All Ireland and 24 Ulster Championship wins not to mention hundreds of local contest successes and excludes the achievements of their drum corps over the period.
The achievement of an unprecedented two Grand Slams (unbeaten in major contests within the year) in 1993 and 2011 are landmarks in his career but perhaps the fact that over that time his band also recorded 42 seconds in the RSPBA Majors and has never been outside the top six prizes unless they were absent reflects the domination and consistency that has been achieved and continues to this day.
Richard’s exploits and success within the world pipe band movement have made him one of the most respected pipe band leaders ever. It is not unknown for him to have the term ‘legend’ tagged along with his name and correctly so. He is much in demand as a tutor and adjudicator which he manages to fit in whilst continuing in his employment with aircraft wing manufacturer Bombardier.
At the All Ireland Championships on Saturday 6th July in Ballymena many within the pipe band fraternity had the opportunity to congratulate him as well as an acknowledgement from the officers of the RSPBA NI Branch / IPBA and members of the parent body who were present.
Many congratulations to Richard who I am sure will continue to lead this wonderful pipe band to many more successes.
Former RSPBA Northern Ireland Branch Administrator Mervyn Herron Receives MBE from HM Queen
On Tuesday 2nd July at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh former RSPBANI Branch administrator Mervyn Herron was presented with his Member of the British Empire (MBE) from HM Queen Elizabeth II which he had been awarded in the New Years’ Honours List for services to the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association.
Mervyn started out his pipe band career as a bass drummer in the County Down based Crimson Arrow Brian Boru Pipe Band (Newcastle) before moving on to play with the Carson Memorial Pipe Band Annahinchago where he and his wife Ann were involved in fundraising for the band.
Mervyns’s organisational ability was recognised by the band’s then Pipe Major, the late Charlie Dodds, and when the County Down Section needed a new secretary it was Charlie who suggested to a reluctant Mervyn that he would be the ideal candidate. However he only allowed his name to go forward on a temporary basis but so began a remarkable term of office with the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association which commenced in November 1983.
The County Down Section has been in many respects the leading and most innovative section within the local pipe band movement. It goes back to the mid 1940s when it was mostly County Down based officials in the old Pipe Band League who set in motion the formation of the local RSPBA Northern Ireland Branch.
Once Mervyn settled into office the opportunity to trial new ideas emerged resulting in changes such as Grade 1 bands playing twice and the introduction of computer generated results. He also took the County Down contest on its travels seizing an opportunity to stage the event at the National Trust’s Castle Ward Estate with its magnificent scenic backdrop.
The lack of finance often frustrated new ideas and an innovative approach so he encouraged the section to engage high profile acts to local venues. This approach led the BBC Radio Ulster presenter, the late Tommy Miller MBE, to describe Mervyn as the ‘motivator’.
The role of County Down Section Secretary led Mervyn into involvement within the Northern Ireland Branch and he soon became one of their representatives on the RSPBA National Council which he held along with NI Branch Treasurer Kenny Crothers for over 30 years.
He played a role in the modernisation of the parent body particularly in making it more financially viable due in no small part to the Northern Ireland Branch and its representatives such as Mervyn and his colleagues the former and current RSPBA Presidents the late Tommy McCarroll and George Ussher and NI Branch Treasurer Kenny Crothers.
His role in changing the format of the Major Championships and specifically the World Championships gave him great satisfaction including his appearance as commentator at the Grade 1 arena (a role he was disappointed to lose) and the introduction of grandstand seating revolutionised the event.
He believes that one of the finest achievements, done with the help of Tommy Millar and Rob Wallace, was persuading BBC Scotland to broadcast the Worlds and then broadcast it live on the day across the world on the internet.
He embraced the rapidly emerging technology age by embarking on computer courses and publishing exams to make his role a little easier and he helped the NI Branch utilise the use of technology which now embrace everything from contests results to online contest registration.
Mervyns’s own contribution to the pipe band movement in County Down and additionally to encouraging local economic development through the staging of the County Down Pipe Band Championships was recognised in 2008 by Banbridge District Council when he and Willie Connolly the Chairman of the County Down Section were presented with Community Civic Awards in recognition of their individual and group achievements.
Sadly Mervyn’s RSPBA NI Branch involvement ended a few years ago when he was deselected from his almost 30 year position of RSPBA National Councillor/ Director by the NI Branch, a scenario that had never happened before. This would eventually lead to him resigning as Secretary of the County Down Section.
Despite this disappointment Mervyn still takes a great interest in the pipe band community and is a regular attender at NI Branch contests where he has many friends. He maintains a role with the Belfast International Tattoo and it various offshoots in Glasgow and Liverpool so his great experience is not lost to the band community altogether.
- Any reader who wishes to offer congratulations to these gentlemen can do so below in our Comments section.