Pipe Band History – Robert Armstrong Memorial Part 2

Following the retiral of Harry Denyer, Tommy Geddis took on the role of Pipe Major which he held for two years, 1955 – 1956, after which his family went to live in Canada. The RAMS are pictured above in 1956. From the 1955 season the Armstrong played in the Open Grade at home whilst in Scotland it was Grade 3.

Successes included winning the Open Grade Ulster title (also drums) as well as the Ballymena contest. Drumming prizes were also won at the Mid Ulster and, at the end of the season, Cowal Gathering. In 1956 they won at the Mid Ulster Championships and were placed third in Grade 3 at the Worlds in Belfast.

By Gilbert Cromie, Northern Ireland Correspondent

Pipe Major Jack McClintock took over the role from 1957 for three seasons during which they had Open Grade wins at Ballymena (1957 and 1958), Mid Ulster drumming (1958), Dundalk (1958) and Bangor (1959).

Jack was the nephew of Pipe Major Thomas MacAllister BEM of Shotts & Dykehead Caledonia fame and thus was a cousin of the other famous MacAllisters, John K., William and Thomas Jnr. Harry Stevenson, a former leading member of RAMS and now a respected pipe band adjudicator for the RSPBA, is of the opinion that Jack was one of the most knowledgeable pipers that he had ever met.

Jack McClintock reverted to the Pipe Sergeant role when Tommy Geddis returned from overseas to take over the band in the winter of 1959. Later, when Jack retired from the band, Tommy Geddis invited Harry’s father to come into the band as Pipe Sergeant.

Tommy Geddis held role of Pipe Major for a further seventeen years, 1960 – 1977, during which he would lead the band to becoming the most dominant on the local pipe band scene. At the All-Irelands they were victorious in drumming in 1962 and 1965, as a band in 1966, 1969 and 1970, and as a band and in drumming in 1971, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976 and 1977. They were Ulster Champions in 1962, 1963, 1964, 1967, 1970 (band), 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976 (band and drums) and 1977 (drums). 

Robert Armstrong Memorial Pipe Band in 1966 after winning their first All Ireland title in a 19 trophy season

In addition to these top prizes, the band were declared Champion of Champions on eleven occasions from the inception of that competition in the 1960s, this by virtue of their achievements in local competitions. Their successes exceeded sixty wins, including lifting the drum corps prize at well over half of them. 

Full band contest successes were mirrored in Northern Ireland’s indoor events. They were regular winners in the extensive Mini Band and Quartet piping scene, and indeed it is recorded that the Ulster Quartet Piping Competition, which ran for over three decades, was initially established by the Robert Armstrong Memorial in 1966 prior to the competition being taken over by the NI Branch. 

1970 All Ireland and World Grade 2 Champions. The 25th All Ireland Championship Banner can be seen on P/M Geddis’s bass drone

In these days, if the Armstrong were not on the winner’s rostrum, they most certainly would have been in the prizes. This included many Style and Appearance awards, their smart and distinctive evening wear, dress sporrans, tartan hose and buckled brogues, setting them apart from other bands.

The band would compete regularly in Scotland at RSPBA major contests and their successes included:
Europeans – 1963 Grade 2/3 Drum Corps Champions and 1970 European Champions; Worlds – 1970 Grade 2 World Champions. Here they are tuning up for the Worlds two years before that at Grangemouth in 1968 when they were placed second in Grade 2:

In 1971 they, and close rivals St Patricks Donaghmore, were promoted to Grade 1 and at the Worlds they came close to gaining top six places in both 1973 and 1974.

The 1960s and 70s were a particularly busy time for the band as they were selected to attend a number of prestigious events including, on four occasions in 1972, 73, 75 and 78, the Intercontinental Gathering at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto where they representated with distinction the NI Branch of the RSPBA. At the 1972 contest they were placed eighth and second in drumming in Grade 1, a considerable achievement.

  • To be continued. Read part 1 here.

2 thoughts on “Pipe Band History – Robert Armstrong Memorial Part 2

  1. Hello Gilbert Cromie,

    Have just read your potted history of the Robert Armstrong Memorial pipe band.
    Thank you for this helpful reminder of one of the great Northern Ireland bands , the extent of their success and the heritage from which they were formed.
    My father , Jim Chambers ( bass drummer)was a founder member of the band and it was great to review the various photos which you have in the article. Interestingly my great uncle Freddie Cooper is shown in one of the St. Aiden’s photos and a number of the Armstrong photos as well.
    Thank you for this long awaited and necessary history
    Brian Chambers

    Do you know there was a song written about the Armstrong’s many achievements.
    It was penned by a band member “Big Trevor” who was Drum Major and second bass drummer.

  2. Great article and lovely to see these references to Harry Denyer, a stalwart of the London scene for many years before retiring to his native Northern Ireland. I recall a London competition in the very early nineteen eighties at which, having completed my playing for the day, I took a seat beside Harry in the ‘Beaton Cup’ jig event in a packed auditorium at the Glaziers Hall. As a certain Richard Parkes came onto the stage to play, Harry turned to me and said “This chap has just taken on a band back home a year or two ago called Field Marshall Montgomery. Watch out for them, they’re going places.” What a prediction and probably the understatement of the latter part of the twentieth century with regard to the pipe band world.

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