A generation of pipe bandsmen and women has grown up since the passing of a man who was, at the time of his death, one of the best-loved personalities in the pipe band world. This is from Piper Press magazine January 1999….
The piping and pipe band world was stunned by the sudden death of Harry McAleer, former pipe major of Strathclyde Police Pipe Band, at his home in Glasgow in January.
Harry (45) collapsed and died from a heart attack whilst preparing for a night out with his close friend and former fellow bandsman, Chief Superintendent John Wilson.
A large gathering of colleagues, family and friends from all over the British Isles gathered at Cathcart South Church in Glasgow for the funeral service. Harry’s wife Eleanor and their two sons Gary and Brian led the mourners.
Chief Constable John Orr and officers at every level of the police force were in attendance. During the short service John Wilson read the eulogy.
John spoke of Harry’s sense of humour. Of how he quipped that only an Irishman would have been crazy enough to have taken over the pipe majorship of the Strathclyde Police band after his predecessor Ian McLellan’s fantastic run of success.
He talked of how Harry led the band to victory in the British Championships and how he successfully began the process of rebuilding after a period of transition and a downturn in the band’s fortunes.
He talked of Harry’s attention to detail and the meticulous preparation he made before competing or playing in public. And he told of how Harry was never prouder than when he was wearing the uniform of Strathclyde Police, in his view ‘the greatest pipe band in the world’.
In a moving gesture at the end of his speech John bowed to the coffin, touched it, and with a quiet ‘thank you’, returned to his seat.
After the service Harry was laid to rest on a windswept Renfrewshire hillside as his former Pipe Major, Ian McLellan, played the lament.
Fred Russell, who grew up with Harry on the streets of Belfast, has written of their early piping life together: ‘Harry began his piping career in the Ballycoan band after being taught by his father Leslie, former Pipe Major of the Royal Ulster Constabulary band.
‘I often practised with Harry. His light music playing was second to none. He was a very accurate player and always very musical. As a boy he won all the local piping events including the All Ireland solos and the Ulster solos three years in a row and later the Strachan Trophy for MSR at London.
‘In 1969 he joined the famous Robert Armstrong Memorial Pipe Band and a year later they won the grade two World Championship. In 1971 he fulfilled a lifelong ambition when he left the Robert Armstrong to join Strathclyde Police.
‘He did his training at Tulliallan College and when he was being interviewed at the end of it he was asked what he wanted to achieve in the police force. Harry had only one reply: ‘To be pipe major of the pipe band’. Harry was to achieve that ambition after winning 14 World Championship titles with the band under Ian McLellan.
‘When he took over the reins of the band he was always very realistic about his chances of success and talked of his admiration for the Victoria Police, Australia, SFU from Vancouver and the 78th Highlanders from Ontario.
‘Harry McAleer was a fantastic lad. To me he was a brother. He was always bright and chirpy and great fun. He would never miss the opportunity to ask how you were getting on. He had no enemies. Whenever he came home to Ulster he never played the big shot no matter what the band had just won.
Have a listen to Harry and the great Strathclyde Police Pipe Band:
‘I don’t know how he’ll be replaced. He is a big loss especially with the knowledge and experience he had to pass on to younger players.
‘When he bowed out of the job as pipe major and handed over to Ian Plunkett there were no hard feelings. Harry kept playing with the band and tried to do his best for the new pipe major.
‘He had only another four years to do in the police and had talked of getting a part time job when he retired. His other great love was motorbikes and he talked of going down to Brands Hatch for the racing.
‘Harry was a great Ulsterman and I can think of no better ambassador for Ulster piping than Harry McAleer.’
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