By Niamh Hayes
THE South of Ireland Band Championships returns to Clonakilty on July 6th. A staple in the events calendar of the town every summer, this year is no exception and it will be that extra bit special as the event is celebrating its 40th anniversary.
The Championships were introduced to the town in 1980 by Brawny Wycherley. A lover of brass music, he advocated for the introduction of a brass event into the programme of the Festival of West Cork. He was eager to create awareness of the wealth of music that was available in the area, and with the help of his friend Jack O’Mahony, they set up a committee, headed by Tom Nyhan, and the Championships were included in that year’s festival programme.
The interest in the Band Championships was almost immediate and because it became such a success in Clonakilty, St. Patrick’s Brass Band, which was popular in the town in the 1920s but had since dismantled, was revived in 1982.
There was a dwindle in numbers in the band again in the early 1990s but the proposal to make the band part of the Community College resulted in its resurgence and today it has 100 members and is called the Clonakilty Brass Band.
Some 40 years on since the first Championships and two of the original organisers are still members of the committee – Denis and Eileen Kingston. Along with the six other committee members, they are eager to make this year’s event the best yet.
‘This is a huge event, both in the bands’ calendar and in Clonakilty’s calendar. It’s an occasion for bands to not only share their talents but also a time when people come together to rekindle old friendships and start new ones,’ says Eileen.
This year the bands will take to the stage in two different venues. The junior and senior bands will perform at the Community Hall, while the intermediate bands will compete at Sacred Heart Secondary School.
Bands are categorised according to the calibre of music that they play and they will be judged by two international adjudicators from the UK. Philip Harper will adjudicate the junior and senior categories and Tom Davoren will adjudicate the intermediate one. Members of the bands range from nine years old to 90 and each band will play their own choice of music.
Eileen adds: ‘What makes this event different is that bands play their own repertoire of music. They pick music tailored to their own talents rather than performing test pieces.’
Bands come from all over Ireland to participate and this year they will be joined by the University of Washington Varsity Alumni Band, all the way from Seattle in the USA. To make it even more special, some of the bands from the inaugural event will be competing.
‘It is a great joy to the organisers that Midleton Concert Band will be attending. They won at the very first Championships in 1980. Other bands that competed that year and will make a return this year are the bands from Fermoy, Mitcheltown and Waterford. We will also have the oldest band in Ireland, St James’ Brass & Reed Band from Dublin,’ says Eileen.
While the main performances take place indoors, a huge attraction every year is when the bands take to the streets to entertain locals and visitors alike. The whole event attracts huge numbers to the town which in turn provides a huge boost to the local economy, with much of the accommodation in the town being booked out for the weekend.
Of course an event of this calibre would not be possible every year without its sponsors and this year the committee wishes to acknowledge the generosity of Cork County Council, the Arts Office, Clonakilty Chamber of Commerce, West Cork Municipal District, local festival grants and the local sponsors, many of whom have been supporting since the festival’s inauguration.
To mark the occasion of the 40th anniversary, the committee has produced a commemorative programme booklet titled “A Miscellany of Musical Memories” which is filled with stories and photographs of years gone by and will be available on the day.
Members of the public can attend any of the events, which will all be free of charge. The Old Time Fair will also take place on the same day, so whether you want to dance along to some music on the streets, watch the bands compete against each other indoors, or dress up in your Old Time outfits, Clonakilty is sure to have something for all the family on July 6th.