BY AISLING MEATH
ST FACHTNA’S silver band have recently moved into their newly refurbished hall at Skibbereen’s Fairfield and are actively recruiting new members of all abilities to join them.
Established in 1912 by Gerald Joseph Macura the band is part of the fabric of the town and a regular fixture at festivals, regattas and parties, where they perform a wide musical repertoire, drawing from the worlds of jazz, pop, classical and traditional.
The new hall boasts a canteen to welcome visitors along with additional space for rehearsals and lessons for senior and junior bands to prepare for many events and competitions over the coming months.
Their founder Macura was born in 1871 and lived in Townshend Street Skibbereen with his father Florence, a cooper and needle maker, and his mother Ellen McCarthy.
At the age of 16 he emigrated to the USA and went on to achieve success with the invention and sale of a medical instrument known as ‘Dr. Macura’s Pulsoconn’ though he was not actually a medical doctor. He went on to purchase Lough Hyne house and started up the band.
He provided a full set of Bessons no.1 Best Quality Procurable Instruments and employed Mr. Joseph Chipchase as bandmaster. Chipchase had been with the Band of the Life Guards, a mounted regiment of the British army reputed to be one of the best of its kind.
Before long the sounds of the marching band rang out from their nightly rehearsals in the storeroom at the back of Jackie Levis’s chemist shop on Main Street.
In order to provide ongoing funds for the band Macura also set up the ‘Kinemac’ cinema of which not a trace remains at its location near the Schull road roundabout, but despite its failure he went on to fund the band from his own resources for many years.
During the early days the band would often march from Skibbereen to Lough Hyne with many spectators gathering behind them to enjoy the music.
At that time it was traditionally a male preserve but in tandem with the broadening of roles for women in Ireland, women and girls began to join the band in the late 60’s and constitute around 50% of the members today.
In 1963 St. Fachtna’s silver band proudly represented Skibbereen when they took part in the parade in Cork in honour of the visiting American president J.F. Kennedy.
The current line up of the band has cornet players Megan Collins, Cassie Collins, Lynn Dixon, Pat Nate, Eileen Robb, Abigail Fowler, Hugh O’ Driscoll and Laura O’ Driscoll; horn player, Rachael Crowley; baritones, Christine Robb, Sean Cotter, Euphoniums Alan O’ Donovan, Oscar O’ Donovan; trombones, Pat O’ Driscoll and Cillian Murphy; tuba payers Seamus O’ Brien and Ewan Robb and percussionists Sean O’Driscoll and Anne O’ Driscoll.
Retired after 28 years of playing with the army band, conductor and musical director Mick Long travels from Cork city to provide lessons and rehearsals with the silver band. This tutoring facilitates a portal of access to a musical education for local children who sit their grade exams with the Associated Board Royal School of Music.
Mick said: ‘The enthusiasm shown by the Skibbereen children for their music is fantastic, it’s a pleasure to teach them.’
Megan Collins 18 has played with the band for 12 years, and her sister Cassie is also a member.
‘I hope to do primary teaching when I leave school and hopefully will to be able to travel home at weekends to continue playing with the band,’ she said. ‘Pat O’ Driscoll, our bandmaster is an inspiration and has kept us motivated over the years,’ she added.
Abigail Fowler’s late grandfather Con Kelleher was an army man who taught the band marching routines. Abigail, aged 10, loved to see him dressed up in his uniform and today proudly sports her own as a cornet player with St. Fachtna’s silver band for the past three years and has completed her Grade 3 exams.
‘I love making friends outside of school playing with the band,’ said Abigail
10- year -old Shane O’ Mahoney has played cornet in the junior band for the past year and has passed his Grade 1 exam: ‘It’s really nice playing in the band,’ he said
It was through one of their regular visits to the local schools that Rachael Crowley, 15, became interested in joining four years ago and is looking forward to taking her Grade 5 exam shortly. Her mother Jacinta is secretary of the band committee, along with Ewan Robb, chairperson. Seamus O’ Brien is the longest serving player and has been with the band for 51 years. He provided a wonderful account of the bands activities in the Skibbereen Historical and District Society journal Volume 2012 on the occasion of the bands 100th anniversary. He wrote: ‘Another generation of young boys and girls are taking up the mantle, and are being infused with a love of music and performing, and will hopefully pass it on to the next generation.’
The band are actively recruiting new members of all abilities and are an inclusive organisation who welcome children and adults across all educational spectrums
For more information contact: Jacinta Mc Sweeney, 087-1099479 and Bandmaster: Pat O’ Driscoll, 087-2559302