Northern Ireland Pipe Bands Gearing Up for Post Covid Comeback

The pipe band scene in Northern Ireland is making strides to get going again with bands resuming practices and plans being put in place by the RSPBA NI Branch for the season ahead. The RSPBA NI Branch Meeting took place on Saturday 29th January 2022 via Zoom and a draft contest programme was tabled.

At the time only the Mid Ulster (Cookstown) and the Ulster (Ballymena) competitions were confirmed however since then both the Ards & North Down (Bangor]) and the Antrim & Newtownabbey (Antrim Castle Gardens) have been agreed leaving three dates 7th May, 6th August and 3rd September to be clarified. One other event being held locally will be the UK Championships in Lurgan on Saturday 11th June 2022.

By Gilbert Cromie, Northern Ireland Correspondent

The All-Ireland Championships, which will be held on Saturday 2nd July 2022, has seen a change of venue as the Newbridge House venue at Donabate outside Dublin, which had been selected for the cancelled 2020 and 2021 events, is not available on the required date.

Instead it has been relocated to Pearse Park, New Ross, County Wexford were it was last held in 2018. Sadly there seems to be no end of season event which would usually have been held the week after the Worlds. It traditionally brought each season to a close and would give any bands and drum majors who succeed at the Worlds the opportunity to parade their trophies. Portrush and more recently Newcastle had held this end of season competition which in many ways would be reminiscent of the Dunoon street parade at the Cowal. 

Saturday 16th April – Ulster Solo Piping & Drumming Championships at Lisnagarvey High School
Saturday 7th May 2022 – Festival [venue to be agreed]
Saturday 14th May 2022 – Ards & North Down Championships – Bangor 
Saturday 4th June 2022 – Mid Ulster, Cookstown
Saturday 18th June 2022 – Antrim & Newtownabbey Championship – Antrim Castle Gardens Saturday 2nd July 2022 – All Ireland Championships, New Ross
Saturday 23rd July 2022 – Ulster Championships, Ballymena
Saturday 6th August 2022 – To be confirmed [Champions of Champions]
Saturday 3rd September 2022 – Festival & UK Solo Drumming Championships [venue to be agreed]

Closkelt Concert

It is hard to believe that some two and a half years have passed since Closkelt Pipe Band (pictured top) and quite a few other contest bands made their last public appearance. That 2019 season proved to be yet another successful season for them but more importantly it saw the band being promoted to Grade 1.

Many in the local pipe band community were looking forward to hearing how they would cope with upgrading and if they could bring their superb sound and playing up that essential notch to compete successfully at the next level. In around five weeks’ time we will get an idea of how far the band has progressed when they play at their concert on Saturday the 26th March 2022 in the Market Place Theatre in Armagh.

Looking at the bands roster on their website it appears that Pipe Major David Chesney and Leading Drummer Brendan Megoran have recruited strongly over the past year or so with increased numbers in the pipe, snare, tenor and bass drum sections. One thing that stands out is the blend of young and experienced players which augers well for this coming season. In addition to the host band playing there will be performances from the Matt Boyd Memorial Pipe Band, Gransha Pipe Band, Kathryn Stewart Highland Dancers, a Drum Majors Display team and much more.

Tickets which are priced at £15 and can be purchased online from: or by calling the Market Place Theatre Box Office on +44 (0) 28 3752 1821. Demand is expected to increase quickly now that restrictions have been eased somewhat so if you wish to go it would be prudent to book as soon as possible to avoid disappointment!

Change of date for Kids with Cancer Charity Concert

Some weeks back I received notification from Gary Smyth regarding the forthcoming Kids with Cancer Charity Concert which has changed its previously advertised date as outline by Gary below. 

‘After much thought and deliberation I would like to inform everyone that this year’s Kids with Cancer Charity Concert in support of the children’s cancer unit charity will be moved to Saturday 30th April 2022 at our usual venue in the Royal Hotel in Cookstown. Any purchased tickets will be valid for this new date. The line- up will remain as advertised and I would like to thank all the performers for their co-operation with the new date. I would also like to thank the Royal Hotel in Cookstown and the other hotels and B&B’s, P&O ferries and others for their co-operation regarding the new date.

Doors will open at 5pm for a 6pm start and a class line-up has been assembled. There will be solo performances from Gareth McLees, William Glenholmes, Steve Shedden, John Lappin and the Kited Cousins [Drummers], Ashley McMichael, Ryan Cupples Menendez, Alistair Donaghy and Scott Wallace [Pipers] and Niamh Noade [Singer]. I imagine that many pipe band enthusiasts will be looking forward to hearing the Shotts & Dykehead Caledonia Pipe Band performing under local man Pipe Major Emmett Conway to see how the band has progressed under his leadership.

The appearance of a Field Marshal Montgomery Drum Corps featuring ex-players under the leadership of former Drum Sergeant Gordon Parkes is an exciting prospect and will be the subject of much interest. I understand that they have been practising hard and I have no doubt that they will put on a top class show. The Down Academy Pipes and Drums led by Pipe Major William Wallace will demonstrate the outstanding tuition that is being undertaken at grassroots level and the organisers are to be congratulated on giving this band the opportunity to perform at this prestigious event.

The admission which is £20 per person must be pre-paid by Bank Transfer or PayPal. The PayPal address is Gary Smyth can be contacted by Facebook or by Texting 078144 46179. The most important thing to be remembered here is that all proceeds will be in aid of the Children’s Cancer Unit Charity at the Royal Victoria Hospital. If you are unsure about whether you can attend or not you can still buy a ticket to support Gary and his team and most importantly help children who have been stricken by cancer. There have been four concerts to date which have raised the fantastic sum of £38,800 however wouldn’t it be brilliant if this event could bring the combined total to in excess of £50k. It would only take six hundred people donating £20 each to reach that amount but I am sure we could do more.

Blackthorn Piper’s Society evenings are a great success

Harry and Graham

The Blackthorn Pipers Society continues each month providing great entertainment on the third Wednesday of each month at their headquarters in the Ulster Discovery Centre at the Corn Exchange, 31 Gordon Street, Belfast. I was able to get along to the January event and a most enjoyable evening it turned out to be.

Given the quality of piping on show it was good to see such a good turnout and they enjoyed a rousing start from host Graham Harris on smallpipes and Matthew Warwick on guitar. They were followed by contributions from Shaun Townsley, Alan Glenholmes and young learner piper Henry Spenser who after a short time of tuition was able to give a fine rendition of ‘Abide with me’. Graham Harris brought the first half of the evening to a close when he played a few tunes on his highland pipes.

The second half of the evening was devoted to a performance from veteran piper and retired RSPBA Adjudicator Harry Stevenson who performed a large selection of tunes about people, places and events here in Northern Ireland. He was assisted by Matthew Warwick who gave a commentary on the stories behind each tune. From the outset I have to compliment Harry Stevenson on the quality of his piping and the information contained in the research behind each tune. Overall there were about ten sets of tunes and while I couldn’t possibly cover every tune there were a number that have a very interesting background.

Harry got things going with two Tommy Green 6/8s entitled Fairview Cottage and the Rocks of Ardglass. Tommy Green was a Scots Guards piper who came to work as a butler on a County Tyrone estate before WW2. He led Tullylagan to many successes in this era and was a regular visitor to the home of Joe Warnock who had retired from the family farm at Tullylagan to Fairview Cottage in the town of Saintfield from which both men travelled to Ardglass for fishing trips hence the tune titles.

The second set of tunes was two Retreat Marches entitled Edgeworth Park and Roe Valley which were composed by local pipers Willie Sloan and Sam Baillie. Willie Sloan wrote the first tune and called it after the home of his Pipe Major Charles Coulter who led the East Belfast Pipe Band for many years into the 1950’s. Pipe Major Sam Baillie who had played with the Robert Armstrong Memorial at a time is well known in piping circles as the long-time Principal of the Northern Ireland Piping and Drumming School. He was a lecturer in Londonderry and led the local Faughan Valley Pipe Band for a number of years. A good friend of mine who was a member of the band told me recently that they played Sam’s tune Roe Valley at numerous contests along with some harmonies.   

In the next set Harry played two 9/8 tunes entitled Archie McKinlay and Janette’s Wedding. The first was named in memory of Archie McKinlay a NI Branch’s National Councillor who passed away suddenly on the morning of the 1965 All Ireland Pipe Band Championships. A representative of the 29th B.B. Old Boy’s Pipe Band he had been NI Branch Treasurer at a time and only a few months earlier had been appointed to the position of Treasurer of the SPBA parent body. In 1969 Archie Duncan of Campbelltown, Argyll won a composing competition with a 9/8 tune entitled ‘Archie McKinlay. The Janette’s Wedding tune was composed by Harry himself for a friend’s wedding. There were a number of other tunes which had interesting stories behind them which I will detail in the future. 

I wasn’t able to get to the meeting on Wednesday the 16th February 2022 when Ben Greeves was the guest piper however I am grateful to Harry Stevenson for this report. Harry tells me that ‘Ben played a very interesting selection of tunes in varying time signatures including classic pieces such as Pipe Major William MacLean, The Cameronian Rant & Mrs Macpherson of Inveran. His chosen piobaireachd was The Red Speckled Bull which he played extremely well and this was greatly enjoyed by an audience who were absorbed by what they were hearing. Playing on a set of 1928 Lawrie bagpipes complete with a new RG Hardie Infinity chanter his performance was impeccable throughout.’

It was Harry’s opinion that Ben’s performance was probably the finest Blackthorn recital which he had attended over the past number of years. If you would like to hear the performances from that night you can do so via the Blackthorn Pipers Society Facebook page. The next Society outing is on the 16th of March 2022 when the guest piper will be Andrew Wilson who was Secretary of the organisation for some years after its inauguration.

County Fermanagh band celebrating their Centenary

Derryclavin Pipe Band from County Fermanagh will be celebrating their centenary this year and they have appealed to all past members and their families, friends and followers of the band to provide them with any old photographs / memorabilia etc. which they may have in order for them to create an anniversary booklet to mark this momentous occasion. Throughout the years there were some great characters in the band and they would love to capture as much information about them as possible. Any information or photographs received will be kept safe and returned. If you can help the band please contact Rev John Beacom on 077 5393 6685 who will be collecting the materials. 

Belfast International confirmed for 2022

It is now two years since the last Belfast International Tattoo took place and it was therefore exciting to learn that plans are underway for the 2022 event which is to be held at the SSE Arena, Belfast on the 2nd and 3rd September 2022. The organisers have announced that the Regimental Band of the Royal Irish Regiment along with the 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Regiment Bugles, Pipes and Drums will be headlining the Tattoo.

No supporting acts have been announced so far however I would imagine that information will be released over the coming weeks and months as they are confirmed. Those of you who purchased tickets for the 2020 and 2021 shows have been assured that they will remain valid for this show. Tickets for this show can be purchased at, or

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