I had a good corps at St Joseph’s and we were in Grade 1 but we’d lost a lot of pipers and we struggled for three or four years until 1998, playing locally in the All Irelands and at the Worlds a couple of times. We didn’t do so well, always around the bottom.
Then Johnny Keogh left the O’Tooles and Dean Hall from Australia took over and one night Terry [Tully] appeared in the band hall and asked what would be the chances of St Jospeh’s amalgamating with the O’Tooles.
He had a great pipe corps and with the few pipers that were still with St Joseph’s and the drum corps sitting there ready to go he said that it would be mad not to put the two together and really have a good go at Grade 1. I said I was all for that.
The only stumbling block was that I had a bass drummer Jim Gallagher, now the drone tuner with SLOT, and they of course had John Dunne. We had two tenors and they had two tenors but I was loyal to Jim who had been with me since I became leading drummer in ’89. He was very loyal to me – first at band practice, last out. Did every engagement, played every competition and I didn’t feel it was right that we were going to leave him behind.
At that time I didn’t know John Dunne too well and I came up with an idea of what about playing two bass drummers which seems a bit funny because Shotts ended up playing with two basses in 2007 or 8. People laughed at it then but Shotts won a couple of majors with them.
The idea I had was that the two basses would play two different notes but Jim, being Jim said you can only have one bass drummer, and John said two basses wouldn’t work, don’t be silly Stephen. I said OK, you’re the guys that know what you’re doing but I can’t go forward with this amalgamation and it was Jim Gallagher who said I would be crazy not to take the opportunity, and that if SLOT developed a development band after the amalgamation he would gladly play the bass in that.
He added, ‘don’t miss this chance; it might not come again’. I said ‘Are you sure?’ He said yeah and so we moved forward and I went to SLOT in the joint band. I was introduced to John Dunne and we’re now extremely close, like brothers, even though he’s a fair bit older than me.
From that point onwards, from 1999, we had the amalgamation and it lasted three years. In the 1999 season we had a great summer competing against the likes of Field Marshal Montgomery, winning Malahide, a new competition that the south of Ireland put on on a Saturday to encourage bands from the north to come down because until then most of our contests were on Sundays when they didn’t compete.
So FMM came down, as did Ravara, Cullybackey, McNeilstown; it was a pretty decent competition. We had a good go at each other and I got a terrible bite for the whole thing. Andrew Scullion had taken over leading tip at Field Marshal and it was great to get a chance to compete against Andy because he was the man for me.
One of Stephen’s heroes, Andrew Scullion, winning the World Solo Drumming in 1993:
In 2001 when we competed against them we beat them, they beat us. Piping was getting better in our band and add to that, that in 2002, for the first time since 1956 I think, St Laurence O’Toole won the drumming in the Grade 1 arena at Kilkenny.
So for me to take on that role after three years, beating probably one of the best drum corps we’ve seen under Andrew Scullion was like the whole place just erupted. I got shivers and I suppose a little bit scared in some ways. I thought to myself ‘I can really do this. If I can beat Andrew Scullion, well……’
On the second year going into the third we had to sit down and find out what was going to happen, because both bands had a lot of history. We were very old bands in our respective village and town and unfortunately the prospect of losing identity was a scare for both bands.
But the players wanted to move the amalgamation forward and call the new band Dublin City & District Pipe Band and leave both identities behind uniting two of the greats of the south of Ireland together to compete at the highest level. But some of the older guys on the committees didn’t want to go with that and weren’t that keen on the name.
You know what committees are like, sometimes they are, understandably, reluctant to let go, they don’t want to change. In the end the amalgamation broke down.
I think St Joseph’s thought that things would fall back into place and that I would go back with them to sit in the band hall not competing for the rest of my life, or try to get a younger band going. But that wasn’t for me; I had the bite; I had unfinished business to attend to…….
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