Northern Ireland News: Brian Boru Bands/ Antrim Results/ Dromara Band/ Ray’s MBE

The Crimson Arrow Brian Boru Pipe Band from Newcastle, County Down

A new Facebook page entitled ‘Brian Boru Pipe Bands NI’ has been set up by Barbara Phillips who also runs the very popular ‘We Love Pipe Bands’ Facebook page. There are only six such bands who play this type of bagpipes in the whole world and they are all based in Northern Ireland.I

In County Down are the Ballygowan, Ballymartin and Crimson Arrow bands, Cavanaleck are based just outside County Fermanagh, and Glenageeragh and Plumbridge are in County Tyrone.

By Gilbert Cromie, Northern Ireland Correspondent

These pipes come from the Gaelic revival of the late 1800s and a desire to depart from the growing ‘British’ tradition in Ireland. Strangely the attempt to create distinctive bagpipe came about in England when William O’Duane from Dungannon, County Tyrone, sought out bagpipe maker Henry Starck.

Initially Starck produced pipes called the ‘Dungannon pipes’ but they didn’t catch on and very few were made. In 1908 Henry Starck went on to create the present day model which generally has four keys, although there were models with up to ten keys (see picture left).

The pipes became very popular with Irish regiments such as the Inniskilling Fusiliers and the London Irish. They did not however catch on with the Gaelic League whose bands tended to play the two-droned Irish warpipes.

After WWII they became popular particularly within the Unionist community in Northern Ireland probably as a result of war time performances by NI regiments at recruiting and sporting events. Two other factors contributed: former army players returning to civilian life and some band committees opting for a different type of bagpipe to avoid having their players poached.

At their height there were up to thirty Brian Boru bands competing under the banner of the North of Ireland Bands Association and then the RSPBANI. Some of the bands competed at the Worlds in Edinburgh in the 1950s, while the Faulat Girl Pipers performed at several World Championships – the President of the NI Branch had a Brian Boru band based at his Faulat shirt factory in Belfast.

The closure of the Henry Starck business and the dropping of Brian Boru pipes by the military when the three NI regiments were amalgamated contributed to their demise.

However the majority of the remaining six bands  have been in existence for over seventy years and they are determined to continue. The new Facebook page will give an insight into the music of the bands and the distinctive sounds so why not give it a view

Antrim Castle
Antrim Castle Gardens hosted the Antrim & Newtownabbey Regional Pipe Band Championships on June 29th for what was the resumption of the local pipe band competition scene after a four week break.

Closkelt took the Grade 1 title unopposed however they put in couple of great performances which thrilled the crowd. Ravara once again lifted Grade 2  winning favour with all four adjudicators.

McNeillstown were the winners in 3A and Cloughfin continued their winning streak in 3B. Irvine Memorial (pictured above) stopped Upper Crossgare in 4A, while in 4B Moneygore did the same to Altnaveigh. The Drum Corps titles went to Closkelt [Grade 1], Ravara [Grade 2], Major Sinclair Memorial [Grade 3A], Drumlough [Grade 3B], Gransha [Grade 4A] and Bready Ulster Scots [Grade 4B].

Full results: G1: 1 Closkelt; G2: 1 Ravara, 2 Tullylagan, 3 Kildoag, 4 Matt Boyd; G3A: 1 McNeillstown, 2 Clogher, 3 Matt Boyd, 4 Major Sinclair. G3B: 1 Cloughfin, 2 Syerla 3 Drumlough, 4 Irvine Mem. G4A: 1 Irvine 2 Upper Crossgare 3 William Kerr, 4 Ballyboley. G4B: 1 Moneygore, 2 Altnaveigh, 3 McDonald Mem., 4 Bready Ulster Scots, 5 Marlacoo.

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Dromara and District
In 1942 when the Mid Down Contest Committee held their first outdoor contest, the Dromara Highland Pipe Band had been competing at the highest level and was central to the instigation of the All-Ireland Pipe Band Championships. The band fell away and the village of Dromara has been without a pipe band for over a decade. 

In September 2023, an announcement was made that a new non-contesting band Dromara & District would be formed. It had to start from scratch as there were no remaining instruments or uniforms from the old band. Throughout last winter and spring, tuition and fundraising took place. The acquisition of instruments was helped by the generosity of a number of bands such as Drumlough Highland, Corkley, RAF Waddington and  Ballydonaghy.

The band’s next target is uniforms and they have set up a GoFundMe page with every contribution being greatly appreciated. I spoke to Pipe Major Allen Crozier recently and he told me that he and his son Aaron along with Leading Drummer Kenny Donaldson are the only three members to have previously played in a band.

He praised the sterling efforts and dedication of the young membership, 90% of whom are between nine and 16. They made their debut on June 20th at a parade in the local hamlet of Aughnaskeagh and in Dromore on June 29th. I have to say that the enthusiasm displayed was something worth watching, the playing improving each time.

The band has another gig lined up for this Saturday, July 12th. In recent days P/M Crozier received a set of polo shirts and shell jackets from East Down Building Ltd. 

The RSPBA NI Branch have offered their congratulations to Raymond Hall, who has been awarded the MBE in the King’s Birthday Honours List 2024 for services to pipe bands and to the community. Ray has been associated with the pipe band family here in Northern Ireland for many decades and is a well-known and respected member of the RSPBA NI Branch Executive.

He is a County Fermanagh Section representative and, more recently, an RSPBA Director representing the NI Branch on the RSPBA parent body. This is a well-deserved recognition of his tireless work to sustain and promote pipe band music and culture both in his local community and province wide.

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