History: A Second Hand Set of Pipes Spawned Ireland’s Famous Fintan Lalor Pipe Band

Over the last year or so I have completed short history projects on famous Northern Ireland bands such as Ballycoan, St Patrick’s Donaghmore, Robert Armstrong Memorial and the Pipes and Drums of the RUC.

We have mentioned the various exploits of another band from the island of Ireland, the Fintan Lalor band in Piping Press over the months and years, but this series will be the first pulling together of all the information I could gather on the band.

In earlier days the ‘Fints’ band from Dublin was the leading band in Ireland and represented the standards that needed to be emulated to get to the top both locally and beyond as they blazed a trail at the Cowal Gathering from the mid-1930s, lifting numerous titles including two World Grade 1 Drumming Championships in 1939 and then again in 1956. 

By Gilbert Cromie, Northern Ireland Correspondent

The Fintan Lalor Pipe Band, see the early picture of them above, was named after the Young Irelander and political thinker of the same name and was founded in late 1912 by Robert De Coeur who was Chairman of No. 16 Branch, Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union. Keen to boost morale within the Branch he spotted a set of bagpipes in the window of a second-hand shop opposite the union premises and he told a colleague that he was going to buy them and start a band.

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Other Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union branches had fife and drum bands, however pipe bands were coming into vogue under the influence of the Gaelic League, with several having been founded in Dublin around this time. De Coeur secured a loan of £25 to buy instruments and equipment.

The first public notice of the band seems to have been around June 1913 when reference is made to ‘an Irish pipers’ band’ being attached to the IT&GWU while the formation of a ‘James Fintan Lalor’ group of the Fianna Éireann (Irish National Boy Scout movement) is thought to refer in some way to the band. 

The band is pictured after winning the Benmore Shield and the Hamilton Shield at Cowal in 1937

Ex-servicemen in the union branch were able to teach the members the basics of drill and of drumming while the first piping instructor was a Scot, William M. Mackenzie who was described as a good player and teacher. He had moved from Inverness to Dublin to make bagpipes and reeds for the Scottish troops stationed in Dublin. He established a shop in Bolton Street in Dublin 1911 where he remained until he closed it in 1916 around the time of the Rising and is said to have moved to London.

Pipe Major Tom Donoghue

The first pipe major was Tom Donoghue who in later years held the same position with the James Connolly Pipe Band in Dublin and afterwards became a parish priest in England. Other founder members were John Hanratty, Dan King, Joseph Kearns, James Wynne, and Edward Tuke. The band made their competition debut in July 1913 at the Gaelic League’s annual Oireachtas in Galway when the winners were the Lusk ‘Black Raven Pipers’.

Throughout the following decade, while the band would continue to compete in Gaelic League competitions, the vast majority of their engagements would be related to union or political activity which from time to time would bring them into conflict with the forces of law and order.

Through involvement with the Irish Citizen Army from November 1913 in which Robert De Coeur was a captain they were often referred to as the ‘Irish Citizen Army Pipers’ band. In May 1914 the band placed the following advertisement in the Irish Worker:

Important Notice  Irish War Pipes – Fintan Lalor Pipers’ Band – 77 Aungier Street, Dublin
Any young man wishing to learn the Irish War-Pipes can do so by applying to Joseph Kearns or Robert De Coeur at above address on Tuesday and Friday Evenings, between the hours of 8 and 9 p.m.  Entrance fee, 6d.; Subscription, 3d. per week.

The band competed at the Oireachtas in Killarney, Co. Kerry, in 1914 when the winners were the Dublin Piper’s Club. In 1915 the band headed a detachment of the Irish Citizen Army when it entered an Irish Volunteer drill competition held in Tullow, Co. Carlow, winning the first prize, which consisted of £5 and an embroidered banner made to the winners’ specifications. In August 1915 they played along with other Dublin bands in the funeral procession of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa at a time when the band had relocated its headquarters to Dublin’s Liberty Hall. 

As members of the Irish Citizen Army most of the band took part in the 1916 Rising and were subsequently interned leaving the band inactive for the next two years. When the members were released they tended to join other bands, particularly Na Fianna Pipe Band. 

  • To be continued.

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