Northern Ireland News: Ulster Championships Blow/ Bereavements/ Blackthorn/ Irvine Mini Bands/ Leinster Contest

P/M Dylan Walker and Lisnamulligan Pipe Band pictured stepping along Newcastle promenade on the return route of the street parade following the Ulster Championships in 2018

The RSPBANI Executive has announced that Mid & East Antrim Council has withdrawn funding for the Ulster Championships, due to take place at Ballymena Academy on the 3rd August.  RSPBANI Branch Chairman Alastair Patterson expressed the disappointment of the Branch whilst fully understanding the funding difficulties within councils.

The Branch is appealing to bands people and their supporters in Mid & East Antrim to speak with their councillors to ensure that this is not the end of future pipe band events within this area. Despite this disappointing news, Alastair has confirmed that the Ulsters will still take place on August 3rd at a venue to be confirmed.

By Gilbert Cromie, Northern Ireland Correspondent

On a more positive note, the Branch has received confirmation from two other councils that they are going to promote pipe band events this summer and these should be confirmed soon. A Branch meeting is planned for tomorrow night, 24th April, where bands can have their say. The NI Branch assures its membership that they are working tirelessly to provide a full calendar of events and will continue to issue updates over the days ahead.

It is disappointing when a council withdraws its support, however the financial pressures that they are under is immense – and that is reflected in our rates bills. Councils in Northern Ireland have been consistent supporters of our movement over many decades and because of that they and the NI Branch need to find a financial model that will benefit  both.

Pipe bands need competitions and councils need events that will attract footfall for local businesses. Surely there is a financial model that combines funding from sponsors, one for every grade, from the general public and business. This leaves the local council to supply the venue, associated logistics and a decent financial contribution. In a changing and challenging financial landscape, everyone needs to contribute 

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Bereavements: The end of February saw the sad passing of two of County Down’s leading pipe band personalities, John Lappin from Moneyreagh, and Willie Connolly who was synonymous with Ravara Pipe Band. John, started as a drummer in his local Ballykeel Black Watch band before going on to play with bands such as Ballycoan, Ballynahinch, Glassdrummond and Saintfield.

His drumming ability was recognised when he was invited to play with the Grade 1 Renfrew Pipe Band. John was a true character. Since his passing the esteem he was held within the pipe band community has been reflected by hundreds of expressions of condolence and memories.

From a personal point of view, I was grateful to John for his assistance in writing articles and his sharing of photographs from his collection. John’s funeral took place at Moneyreagh Non – Subscribing Church where a drum salute was played by Field Marshal’s Gareth McLees and Jamie Coffey, while Adrian Veighey piped the remains to the graveside. I would wish to pass on my condolences to his wife Annis, daughter Kim, son Nicholas, and the family circle at this sad time. 

John Lappin with Alex Duthart in the late 1970s

A massive attendance was present at the Thanksgiving Service at First Saintfield Presbyterian Church to remember the life of Ravara stalwart Willie Connolly. He gave a lifetime of service to the band as a piper and administrator and now his children and grandchildren are continuing his work. Willie also served for many years as Chairman of the RSPBA NI Branch County Down Section, contributing significantly to its activities. That contribution was recognised when he was made an Honorary Vice President of the NI Branch. On behalf of the pipe band community, I would wish to convey my condolences to Willie’s wife Bess, his children Samuel , Sharon, Roy and Gillian and the family circle at this sad time.

Willie Connolly

Blackthorn Pipers held their February and March meetings in the Ulster Scots Discovery Centre, when guest pipers were Sean Maloney and Kris Coyle respectively. In addition to performances from these top class exponents, the Society continues to give opportunities to a plethora of young players who benefit from the encouragement and advice they receive from numerous experienced pipers in the audience. The April session took place on Wednesday 17th April when the guest piper was Alan Glenholmes.

Irvine Memorial Pipe Band have published details of their ‘Valley Mini Bands Contest’ to be held in The Valley Hotel, Fivemiletown, on Saturday May 4th. This is, I believe, one of the first mini band competitions to have been organised since the early 2000s and will bring back memories of a similar event organised by the Gortaclare band at the same venue for around two decades from the late 1970s. The rules for the competition are available on the RSPBANI Branch website and they are designed to maximise opportunities for band members to gain competition experience. Any queries to Pipe Major Neil Stronge on 07791965738 or Irvine Memorial Pipe Band’s Facebook page.

Leinster Pipe Band Championships will be in the grounds of Newbridge House Demesne, Donabate, Co Dublin on Saturday 11th May 2024. This is the same venue for the All-Irelands later in the year. The Leinster Championships are the only outdoor competition ahead of the UK Championships at Bangor the following Saturday, so this is an ideal way to get some practice out on the grass and against strong opposition. The fact that the Leinster Branch are advertising a Grade 1 competition suggests that St Laurence O’Toole may well be entering and that could very well also attract Closkelt and Field Marshal Montgomery. This would be an enormous boost for the event. The syllabus for this contest can be found on the IPBA website. The closing date is Saturday 3rd May 2024.

1 thought on “Northern Ireland News: Ulster Championships Blow/ Bereavements/ Blackthorn/ Irvine Mini Bands/ Leinster Contest

  1. Very sorry to hear about the passing of John Lappin who was popular with me and other siblings of mine. I’ve a picture of John wearing a hat; right beside is Reid Maxwell and I. John was lively, funny and drumming crazy. Sorry to hear about the passing of Willie Connolly too. Willie and his dear wife and daughter Sharon met my wife Diane, son Samuel and I at Balmoral Show in 2014. Willie was a friendly man blessed with a musically talented family. Our sincere condolences to both grieving families at this time.

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