Northern Ireland Pipe Band Round Up

All-Ireland Pipe Band Championships: The spacious grounds of Ballymena Academy were the venue for Ireland’s premier pipe band competition which took place on Saturday 1st July. The weather was ever changing but never cold.

The popularity and importance of this competition to the pipe band fraternity on the island of Ireland was illustrated by a large attendance as friendships were made or renewed around the arenas and tuning areas.

By Gilbert Cromie, Northern Ireland Correspondent

The variable temperatures seemed to make tuning somewhat tricky and judging by the efforts that the Field Marshal Montgomery leadership and tuners had to put in as they secured yet another All-Ireland title, it would seem that other pipe majors faced similar challenges.

Field Marshal secured the top scores from the four-man adjudication panels for both of their MSR and Medley runs, something that Ravara almost equalled as they won Grade 2. 

Altnaveigh, winners in 4B

In Grade 3A Tullylagan (pictured top) were the victors, while Cullybackey claimed the Grade 3B title. Syerla & District, with a good all-round performance, took the Grade 4A title something which Altnaveigh Memorial replicated in Grade 4B.

Ards & North Down Contest Sudden Death: The contest at Newtownards Airfield was blessed with a decent day but regretfully the proceedings were marred by the sudden passing of Alec Brown a member and instructor with the Raphoe Ulster Scots Pipe Band.

The late Alec ‘Eck’ Brown, Raphoe Pipe Band

Alec was an extremely popular member of the pipe band scene in which he was a National Executive member of the Irish Pipe Band Association and also Pipe Major of the International Celtic Pipes and Drums, frequent visitors to many Tattoos across Europe.

The contest was understandably paused while emergency services were in attendance and the traditional Finale was cancelled as a mark of respect with the prize distribution being restricted to pipe majors, leading drummers, and drum majors.

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André Rieu and Cullybackey Pipe Band: The celebrated Dutch violinist and conductor performs to sell out audiences all over Europe and indeed the world and when he appeared at Belfast’s SEE Arena in April one of the invited guest artistes that night was Cullybackey Pipe Band.

They thoroughly enjoyed accompanying André and his orchestra on stage in an ‘electric’ atmosphere. Andre obviously was impressed by their musicianship because he invited them to perform with him in his home city of Maastricht in the Netherlands and that is what they have been doing for the last few weeks. Many congratulations to the band on securing such a prestigious engagement and I do hope they all enjoyed the experience.

RSPBA NI Branch Fermanagh Section
In mid-June, the RSPBA NI Branch  Fermanagh Section hosted a reception for local young people who attended the Pipe Band College’s Enniskillen Centre. Over a period of twenty weeks tutors Daniel McCann and Simon Thompson (piping) and Russell Tinney (drumming) guided twelve students through their examinations.

Fermanagh students and instructors

William Stinson, Fermanagh Section Chairman, thanked the tutors and the students on their achievements, and the Pipe Band College NI for using Enniskillen as one of its main centres. Pipe Major Mark Faloon, Pipe Band College NI Principal, paid tribute to the local students for their hard work and effort.

2023 Belfast International Tattoo
It is now just a few weeks until the Belfast International Tattoo at the SSE Arena, Belfast (Sept. 1&2). Over the next number of weeks practices will take place at various locations and indeed I see that the flute bands have already held their first practice recently. 

Among bands appearing are  the Band of the Royal Air Force College, Delta and Calgary Police, Major Sinclair Memorial, and Ballygowan Brian Boru Pipe Band.

It will be interesting to see what the audience make of the Ballygowan band, the first Brian Boru band to feature at the Tattoo. I think they will be delighted to hear a completely different repertoire for a pipe band, with many well-known melodies and a unique sound. Tickets are available via the Belfast International Tattoo website

Belfast Tradfest Solo Piping
Five pipers competed at the solo piping competition held on Sunday July 25th as part of this year’s Belfast Tradfest. They were Ashley McMichael, Alastair Donaghy, Kris Coyle, Reece Doherty, and Alan Glenholmes.

Each piper performed a 6 – 8 minute medley of their own choice. The event was held in the Deer’s Head, Belfast. The winner was Alastair Donaghy (left). The sponsors were McCallum Bagpipes, The Front Bar (Ballymena) and the Ulster Scots Community Network.

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3 thoughts on “Northern Ireland Pipe Band Round Up

  1. Gilbert. You have got to comment on the small number of bands now competing in Northern Ireland, it is scary. What can, or should be done to address this decline?

    1. Hi David – I have previously commented on the reducing numbers of bands over the last decade. Iain White suggested reducing the numbers in the big bands.
      I believe there may be around 120 – 140 pipe bands in NI which means that a third of bands compete and two thirds don’t. There are no bands from Belfast which is the largest area of population. We have seen a few bands rise from the ashes in recent times and perhaps we need more individuals to step up to the plate and revive bands. Maybe we also need to find out why some bands don’t compete and are there alternative competition formats that could be used to encourage – Friday evening contests for lower grade bands , create a Grade 5 or 6 for new bands letting them play the type of tunes they are comfortable with to get them started, mini bands for those with low numbers, winter / autumn indoor competitions. Just a few suggestions but there are others out there who I am sure might have better ideas than me.

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