New podcast puts spotlight on local marching bands

March 18th, 2023 10:10 PM

By Jackie Keogh

The podcast is the latest in a series from Cork County Council’s library service.

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A NEW podcast by Cork County Council’s local studies library gives a fascinating insight into the marching bands of the county.

It recounts how practically every town village and district had, at some stage, boasted its own marching band, and how especially proud the people of West Cork are of Bandon Pipe Band, Macroom Brass and Reed Band, Carrigaline Pipe Band, Blarney Brass Band, and Ballincollig Brass Band.

The narrator notes how sporting bodies, trade unions and religious organisations have promoted themselves with marching bands.

Marching bands, according to the podcast, can enliven most celebrations and also help at solemn occasions, but marches with socio-political connections can be divisive.

The programme notes that Cork is a city of two halves in music as in everything else – with one long established band on each side of the River Lee.

On the north side the Butter Exchange Band has a long and proud history. It was founded in 1878 as the Fr Hurley Band, named after the principal of Eason’s Hill School but when employees of the old butter market became involved it got its present name.

Since then the Butter Exchange Band has catered for all tastes and one of its proudest moments came in 1976 when it reformed at the official opening of Pairc Ui Chaoimh GAA grounds. On the south side of Cork city, the Barrack Street Band was founded in 1837 as part of Fr Mathew’s Temperance Movement.

Some families now have members in the band for three or four generations, locally based in the main, though some come from further afield, including one from New Zealand.

A typical band was sometimes connected with older bands from the same locality and participated in ceremonies and competitions, sometimes well out of their patch and even going abroad on occasions.

Carrigaline Pipe Band, the programme tells us, evolved from the local Defence Forces Band in 1946. It was the first pipe band ever to perform at Radio Éireann’s studio in Cork and travelled regularly to France for the Celtic Festival. Bandon Pipe Band won prizes every year from 2003 to 2008 at the South of Ireland Championships in Cobh.

Over a dozen bands used to take part in that event, which was uniquely held in the open streets of Cobh. Ballyphehane Pipe Band, which was formed in 1980, was to the fore in the local centenary celebrations of the Easter Rising in 2016.

From north east Cork, the Castlelyons Pipe Band, established in 1957, is now famous for appearances at GAA fixtures, both club games and inter-county matches.

Macroom Brass and Reed Band, which is based at St Coleman’s Boys’ National School, and formed in 1998, grew out of an old confraternity brass band whose instruments it inherited. Blarney Brass Band performs regularly at the local Woollen Mills and participates in the anniversary celebrations of the Dripsey Ambush. Blarney always did well in the South of Ireland Brass Band Championships, which was held several times at Clonakilty Community College.

Winners of that competition have included Mitchelstown, Fermoy and Ballincollig Brass Bands. Meanwhile, the annual Defence Force’s bands concert at City Hall for brass bands, which was established in 1982, has included more than 100 performers each time at sell-out shows. Books and articles on these and others bands are available at Cork County library’s local studies department.

One newcomer to that collection, a couple of years back, is the story of the Newmarket Pipe Band by Dermot Jones. It is a very important band and recently they had a prominent part in the re-enactment of O’Sullivan-Bere’s famous march from Bantry Bay to Leitrim that took place in 1603. The return of the bands after the lifting of Covid restrictions was widely welcomed last year throughout Cork.

The narrator notes that the marching bands continue to flourish with generous local sponsorship and arrangements with local schools to train aspiring young musicians.

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