A History of St Patrick’s Donaghmore Pipe Band – Part 3

The St Pat’s band 1968, All Ireland Senior Champions

In 1951 the SPBA NI Branch came into existence and while the majority of competing bands in Northern Ireland had joined it, St Patrick’s along with most of the bands from the Cookstown, Dungannon and Omagh areas, remained with the Northern Ireland Band Association. In 1951 the band won Grade 4 at the Cookstown Young Farmers Club contest at Loughery Grounds, Cookstown.

The band must have joined the SPBA NI Branch after this because there is no mention of them competing in any more NIBA events, but in 1954 they competed and won Grade 4 at the prestigious An Tostal contest which was held in Dundalk.

By Gilbert Cromie, Northern Ireland Correspondent

This contest, which ran for a few years, attracted entries from across Ireland and Scotland due to the lucrative prize money on offer as reflected in the fact that Shotts & Dykehead Caledonia won Grade 1 and Bullionfield from Dundee won Grade 3.

St Patricks’ desire to improve is reflected during the 1950s when leading tutors were recruited such as Pipe Major Tommy Nelson who had led the 29th BB Old Boys with great success for many years, William Wood who was the Pipe Major of Ballycoan the most successful band of the decade, Tommy Hutchinson (ex-Tullylagan) and Tommy ‘Amber’ Graham one of the leading drummers of the era and a leading tutor during the early years of the SPBA NI Branch.

At the 1956 Ulster Championships in Lurgan the band competed in Grade 2 under P/M Nelson but were unplaced. The pressure of trying to maintain its standards at a higher level took its toll and by 1959 the band folded.

The band was resurrected in the early 1960s under Pipe Major Sean Faloon and Jimmy Hurson with the assistance of the vastly experienced Pipe Major Norman McCutcheon as a tutor and he improved the band. Sean Faloon led them to much success and they climbed through the grades from Grade 4 into Grade 2.

In 1965 they became the Grade 3 Ulster Champions at Ballymena and went on to be crowned Champion of Champions in their grade that year. The success continued into 1966 with wins in Grade 2 at Ballyclare, Dundalk, Bangor Highland Gathering and a second at the Mid Ulsters which led to them being crowned Grade 2 Champion of Champions.

In 1966, in an effort to raise funds, the band came up with an innovative approach which in many ways was ahead of its time. They brought the famous Invergordon Distillery Pipe Band over to Northern Ireland for a short concert tour when they played in the Castle Ballroom in Banbridge, the Commercial Ballroom in Dungannon and the Ulster Hall on Thursday 26th, Friday 27th and Saturday 28th October.

First time in Ireland – poster for Invergordon Distillery’s concert tour promoted by St Pat‘s

Invergordon was at that time led by Pipe Major Trevor Dear and Leading Drummer Alex Duthart, and while the enterprise only broke even it proved an inspiration for the band members and many others. 

Their consistency continued through 1967 and the improvements that the band was making reached a peak when at Oriel Park, Dundalk on the 6th July 1968 when, under Pipe Major Sean Faloon and Drum Sergeant Alex Walker, they became the All Ireland Senior Champions beating off a challenge from Fintan Lalor (2nd) and Ballycoan (3rd). This was a time when they were competing against these two great bands as well as the Robert Armstrong Memorial and 29th BB Old Boys.

At the end of the 1968 season, despite the band’s growing success, they took the opportunity to engage the services of Pipe Major Tom Anderson who had been transferred by his work from Glasgow to Dublin. This proved to be a ‘game-changer’ not only for St Patrick’s Donaghmore, but for pipe bands in Ireland generally. 

  • To be continued. Read the first part of this history here. Read part 4 here.

1 thought on “A History of St Patrick’s Donaghmore Pipe Band – Part 3

  1. Thanks for these historical pieces that you do. In general terms it is an interest of mine. In particular, it’s great to remember bands and people from my youth in the late 60s/70s when I was starting out in Grade 3. I remember St Patrick’s, Donaghmore and Robert Armstrong Memorial very well, not just from the quality of their playing (in Grade 1) but also from what we Scots saw as the ‘quaint’ uniforms that they wore.

    Tommy Anderson I remember as the Pipe Major of Renfrew Pipe Band and then St Patrick’s. He finished up in Canada, as did another Renfrew Pipe Major that I remember, Willie Connell. They were famous men in the world of pipe bands.

    Keep up the good work!

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