Ulster Pipe Band Championships at Newcastle, Co. Down, Close Northern Ireland Season

Whilst the weather has not always been at its best during the pipe band season, when the curtain came down on the summer contests the sun came out for the Ulster Championships at Donard Park, Newcastle. Not only did it stay out all day but so too did thousands of spectators as evidenced by the full car parks and indeed almost every available space in adjoining residential areas resulting no doubt in a bonanza for the vendors in the park and the town.

By Gilbert Cromie

As well as the Ulster Championship prizes, the Champion of Champions (CoC) awards were being competed for with a few grades up for grabs depending on results on the day.

Bands or drum majors winning titles at the World Championships the previous weekend are always honoured at the March Past and those who benefited on this occasion were Ravara (Grade 2 Drum Corps), Tullylagan (Grade 3B band) and Drum Majors Kathy Hunter (Juvenile) and Benjamin Walker (Junior).

Grade 3B World Champions Tullylagan

Another tradition which is marked is the playing of a lament, on this occasion by a piper from the PSNI, in memory of all those connected to the RSPBANI Branch and its bands that had passed away during the year.

RSPBA NI Branch President Winston Pinkerton paid tribute to all the competitors and spectators who had attended during the season and praised those who had taken prizes at the five RSPBA Major competitions.

The Chieftain for the Day was Newry, Mourne and Down District Councillor Terry Andrews who took a great interest in events throughout the day and commended the bands and the RSPBANI Branch on its long and distinguished history.

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Disappointingly, and for the second year running, the Grade 1 competition was uncontested, however fair play to the PSNI band who played extremely well entertaining the large audience with two decent performances. They were also crowned Champion of Champions for all their grade’s sections. 

Grade 2 involved a head to head between County Down’s top bands Closkelt and Ravara. David Chesney’s Closkelt got the nod on this occasion winning both band and drumming awards as well as securing the CoC title for Band and Bass Section while the World Champion Ravara drum corps secured the CoC drumming.

Closkelt, Ulster Champion and Champions of Champions in Grade 2

In Grade 3A Clogher & District recorded their first win of the season in emphatic style winning both the piping and drumming however it was good to see Upper Crossgare get into the prizes with a creditable fourth place in what has been a testing season. Quinn Memorial won all three CoC sections for this grade.

World Grade 3B Champions Tullylagan continued in similar vein by winning the band and drum corps prizes as well as lifting the Bass Section CoC award. McNeillstown who have had a dip in form still secured the CoC for Band and Drumming.

Cullybackey rounded off their centenary year by winning 4A and securing the Bass Section CoC prize. Gransha with their best result of the season were placed second with leading drummer Sammy Smith’s youthful drummers taking the drum corps prize and the CoC award. The CoC band award went to Augharan who had a poor end of season.

Champions in 4A, Cullybackey

By winning 4B Broughshane & District secured the CoC title for both the grade and Bass Section (shared with Carlow). Third placed Mountjoy won the drumming title and the CoC drumming prize.

Drum majors on the winner’s rostrum were Lauren Hanna (Senior) and Carys Graham (Novice) who along with Benjamin Walker (Junior) were also crowned Champion of Champions. World Champion Kathy Hunter won the Juvenile section in which Jamie Cupples was the CoC. 

While bands will now enjoy a well-earned rest before getting back to prepare for the 2020 season a lot of head scratching is required by both the NI Branch and its member bands to stem the tide of both reduced spectator and band numbers.


Results: Drum Majors: Novice: 1st Carys Graham (also CoC), 2nd Harry Mills, 3rd Mia Buckley, 4th Jorja Turkington, 5th Christie Steele. Junior: 1st Benjamin Walker (also CoC), 2nd Louise Smiton, 3rd Louis Anderson, 4th Leanne Crooks, 5thGrace Thompson. Juvenile: 1st Kathy Hunter, 2nd Kathryn McKeown, 3rd Abigail Wenlock, 4th Kara Gilmour, 5th Rachel Lowry. CoC Jamie Cupples. Senior: 1st Lauren Hanna (also CoC), 2nd Andrea McKeown, 3rd Jason Price, 4th James Kennedy, 5th David Brownlee. 

Bands: Grade 4B: 1st Broughshane & District (also Best Pipes, CoC & shared Bass Section CoC with Carlow), 2nd Wm. Kerr Memorial, 3rd Mountjoy (also Best Drums & CoC Drums), 4th Altnaveigh, 5th Syerla. Best Bass Section:  Joseph Forde Memorial. Best M&D Kirkistown.

Broughshane & District 4B Ulster Champions

Grade 4A: 1st Cullybackey (also Best M&D, Bass Section & CoC Bass Section), 2nd Gransha (also Best Drums and CoC Drums), 3rd Kildoag (also Best Pipes – shared) 4th McDonald mem. Best Pipes – shared: Bessbrook Crimson Arrow Band; COC: Augharan.

Grade 3B: 1st Tullylagan (also Best Drums, Bass Section & Bass Section CoC), 2nd McNeillstown (also Best Pipes, Band CoC & Drums CoC). 3rd Major Sinclair Memorial (also Best M&D), 4th Cleland Memorial.

Grade 3A: 1st Clogher & District (also Best Pipes and Drums), 2nd St. Mary’s Derrytrasna, 3rd Battlehill (also Best M&D), 4th Upper Crossgare. Best Bass Section, Band and Bass Section CoC: Quinn Memorial.

The Grade 2 World Champion drum corps of Ravara on parade at the Ulsters

Grade 2: 1st Closkelt (also Best Pipes, Drums, Bass Section, Band & Bass Section CoC), 2nd Ravara (also Best Drums, M&D and Drums CoC)
Grade 1: 1st Pipes & Drums of the PSNI (also Best Pipes, Drums, Bass Section, M&D & COC in all categories).

  • Credits for all photographs to Rodney Brownlee and Reuben Acheson (Clogher & District). Crdit and thanks too to Gilbert for his excellent coverage of the Northern Ireland pipe band scene throughout the season. Ed.

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