A History of St Patrick’s Donaghmore Pipe Band – Part 4

P/M Tommy Anderson leading St Pat’s

Tom Anderson, from Paisley, Scotland, was posted to Dublin by his employer in the late 1960s and he was engaged by the St. Patrick’s Donaghmore Pipe Band to become their Pipe Major and tutor. He had been the Pipe Major of the Renfrew, later British Caledonian Airways, Pipe Band.

Whilst in Ireland he became All Ireland (1971 and 1978) and Ulster (1980) Solo Piping Champion. For a short time before he emigrated to Canada he was engaged as the tutor of the McDonald Memorial (Dromore) band after the legendary Tommy Geddis stepped down due to ill health.

By Gilbert Cromie, Northern Ireland Correspondent

In Canada he played in the 78th Fraser Highlanders for much of the late 1980s and early 1990s before taking on the leadership of the Glenmore, Peel Regional Police, Niagara Regional Police and the Georgetown bands.

In comparison to his previous charges, Tom Anderson found at St Patrick’s that there were additional challenges as he attempted to build the band. He reflected on this in an interview in August 1996:

‘Donaghmore practiced on Sundays and it seemed that, on the Protestant side, that was taboo. People would say how they would just love to play in the band if it weren’t for the fact that they would lose their jobs. It was then that I realised that there were major problems on that side….’

No matter what was happening elsewhere, Sunday for many within the Protestant Unionist community of the time, tended to be a family day and not one when recreational activities were pursued.

Attitudes were changing through the 1960s however, and the growing civil unrest which developed at the time would have had an effect on opinions. Those who stepped forward and joined the band may have been seen as putting their ‘heads on the chopping block’, but in reality the interest in making music and being successful triumphed over everything.

Year on year the band was winning great respect within pipe band circles and its growing reputation as a cross-community group got the major boost it needed came when local piper Percy Smith, a member of the Dungannon-based Howard Memorial, became the first person from the ‘unionist’ tradition to join them. This led the way for many others to come on board.

P/M Tom Anderson was a prize-winning soloist as well as being an outstanding Pipe Major

It is understood that while travelling from Dublin by train to teach St Patrick’s that Tom was inspired to write the famous hornpipe Train Journey North which the band played during Tommy’s leadership.

In 1969 they had wins at County Fermanagh, Mid Ulster Championships and the Kilkenny Beer Festival.

The most notable prizes in 1970 were the winning of the Senior All Ireland Drumming Championships under Drum Sergeant Malachy McCullagh and then a second place in Grade 2 at the Cowal Gathering.

This resulted in the band being elevated to Grade 1 alongside the Robert Armstrong Memorial which had been crowned Grade 2 World Champions the same year. The band had also been placed first in Grade 2 at Dundalk where they also lifted the drum corps prize and the Kilkenny Beer Festival.

Having been promoted to Grade 1 for the 1971 season the band purchased new uniforms in the Lindsay tartan at a cost of £2000. Prizes won that year included firsts and the drum corps prizes at Bray and the Kilkenny Beer Festival, Open Grade drumming at the Mid Ulster and the Ballyclare and County Down Championships all under Drum Sergeant Malachy McCullagh.

The biggest achievement was an overall sixth place at the World Championships in Lanark which included a second in piping playing the revolutionary WarMac polypenco chanters manufactured by Northern Ireland’s Andrew Warnock of the Piper’s Cave company.

The hosting of the 1971 World Championships had originally been awarded to Belfast as part of the Ulster Expo 71 Festival to mark the 50th anniversary of the creation of Northern Ireland, however the increasing civil unrest meant that the venue was changed to Lanark.

In 1972 the band were placed first at the Kilkenny Beer Festival, Carrickfergus (also winning the drumming) and at Enniscorthy they were crowded All Ireland Open Champions for both band and drum corps and I believe Drum Major Derek Stevenson also won the Senior Drum Major prize.

  • Read more on this historic band here. Read the final excerpt in this series here.

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