Band Spotlight: Pipes & Drums of the Royal Ulster Constabulary

The origins of the Pipes & Drums of the Royal Ulster Constabulary come from a meeting held at Sprucefield RUC Depot in 1970 when a number of officers who were members of civilian bands discussed the possibility of starting a pipe band in the force. What surprised these men was the lack of interest for such an idea amongst the ‘top brass’, however they continued and soon they had enough members to justify the formation of a committee.

It was made up of Gordon Taylor, Bob McCarthy, Jimmy Rooney, Leslie McAleer and James Young. Chief Inspector David Corbett was made Band President and the Pipe Major was Leslie McAleer and band practices were held in Musgrave Barracks in the members own free time. In a short while the pipers were able to standardise the pipe tune settings but the band had to bring in Charlie Rea to sort out the drum corps. 

While each of the pipers had their own pipes a lack of funds could not resolve the remaining two problems of no drums or uniform. The uniform issue was resolved quite quickly as Bob McCarthy was able to borrow one from the committee of the defunct Finaghy Pipe Band which he had taught while drums were borrowed from Lisburn Pipe Band by former members Willie Cardwell and Bob Campbell.

Prior to the band making their debut at a function at Newforge the absence of headgear was solved when the Dr Wright Memorial (Newtownards) lent them their feather bonnets. The band gave a very creditable performance on their debut which was the subject of extremely favourable remarks from throughout the police community.

However the absence of official support from the Police Authority and, more importantly, the lack of finance to the extent that they couldn’t even purchase the borrowed uniform led the committee to abandon the idea in 1972 after just two outings.

Even though the band ceased to get off the ground the idea was not dead and through the efforts of men like Inspector James Young, Tom Gregg, Jack Hermon (later Chief Constable), Chief Superintendent TET Forbes, Leslie McAleer and some of the old committee, they were able convince the Police Authority of the benefits of having a pipe band. Funding was achieved by asking every member of the constabulary to gift one pound which they obtained with no problem. 

Cover of the programme for the band’s inaugural display at the Balmoral Showgrounds, Belfast, in 1978

In 1977 armed with the necessary funds the recruitment process began and in a short time they had all the pipers and drummers needed. The members were kitted out with a brand new tailor made uniform in the Prince Charles Edward Stewart tartan which contained the RUC Colours together with new insignia which was fully paid for by the band committee.

Leslie McAleer (father of the late Pipe Major Harry McAleer of the Strathclyde Police Pipe Band) was once again appointed as the Pipe Major and the Drum Sergeant’s role was taken by the experienced Constable William Dunlop who had held a similar role with the 29th BB Old Boys band as well as the SPBA Adjudicators Certificate. 

P/M Nat Russell took over in 1979

As the band was officially recognised by the Police Authority the members were entitled to one period of practice leave each week with the other practices being in their own time. The inauguration of the Pipes and Drums of the RUC took place at an RUC Display in the Balmoral Showgrounds on the 29th April 1978. 

After this event the band prepared for its first competitions in the 1978 season with one of their earliest outings being in Scotland at the Inter Branch Contest in Stranraer on 3rd June 1978 when they secured a second place in Grade 3 behind Woodburn from Carrickfergus but won the drumming. This was however one of the highlights in what was a fairly mundane season.

In the autumn of 1979 Nat Russell took on the role of Pipe Major and things really started to take off. They won the Grade 3 Ulster Championships at Newcastle, Co. Down, and several other local competitions to secure the NI Branch Grade 3 Champion of Champions title. In the same year at the World Pipe Band Championship in Nottingham they lifted the Grade 3 Drumming prize. This successful season led the band to be promoted to Grade 2 for the 1980 season 

  • To be continued.

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3 thoughts on “Band Spotlight: Pipes & Drums of the Royal Ulster Constabulary

  1. My father, James Rooney, had the idea to start the RUC pipe band. He and he alone was the founder, and even though in the RUC, he did not get the proper recognition he deserved. He hit brick wall after brick wall until finally he was given the go ahead and after that a lot off officers joined. I remember as a child watching and running up and down the grounds of Newforge Lane watching him march alongside them fixing the drones to keep them all in tune. He was asked to join Ballycoan Pipe Band and I was by his side his side there also, marching up and down the hall and listening to them practicing on their chanters. One year Ballycoan were World Champions – the next it was Field Marashal Montgomery. Two powerhouses. On one occasion my father played in the New Year on top of Belfast Castle. I am his youngest daughter, Millicent Doyle née Rooney.

  2. Great to see details like this in print. Keen to see more details of my father’s involvement if more is available? Thanks for this.

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