By Elizabeth LEE
Tuesday November 04 2008
WHEN THE Holy Cross Sodality in Killeshin set off on their annual parade in 1964 from Graiguecullen to Killeshin, the pipe band which was to accompany them didn't show up. Locals decided that it wouldn't happen again and so immediately set up their own Killeshin Pipe Band. Since 1965, they've become synonymous with the village and are now one of the few remaining pipe bands in the area.
'Pipe bands are very thin on the ground at this stage,' Denis Ryan, Secretary of the band explains. 'It's the problem of getting young people involved because there are so many distractions out there now. We tend to lose them at Leaving Cert. when they go on to college.'
There are about 20 players in the band right now, (three of whom are in college) with their age profile ranging from over 10's to the 70's. One member, Michael Ryan, is from the original 1965 group. Essentially made up of a drum corps and a bagpipe section, they are from the Scottish tradition of pipe playing. The pipes are sourced either from Northern Ireland or from Scotland when the cost for a single set of pipes start at 1,000euro and goes up 'in multiples of that.'
Because players can start quite young, they're encouraged with one to one tuition by their main teacher, Joe Nixon. Joe, a resident of New Ross, travels to Killeshin at least once a week to teach the crew. Some 12 months of practicing is put in before the players get their first public appearance. While some players will have their own set of pipes or drums, the club does have sets that the players will borrow.
The biggest care in looking after the pipes is by blowing them,' Denis explains. 'You also have to make sure that the reeds are functioning, too.'
'It's all about practice because getting to blow them can be difficult because of the breathing technique,' he continues. 'It can be tricky getting the finger movements on the chanters and co-ordinating that with the work on the bag pipes.'
A committee which raises funds and generally takes care of the day to day running of band is headed up by Chairperson, Jerrie Dunne. Denis is Secretary while Seamus Hearns is Treasurer while the P.R.O. is Helen Dunne.
It takes about ¤10,000 annually to keep the show on the road, so, needless to say, the committee is always busy coming up with the funds.
With great support from the local community in Killeshin and its surrounding hinterland, an annual flag day is a valuable source of income as is their weekly lotto draw, held in conjunction with the Killeshin G.A.A Club.
The cost of keeping the band in musical instruments has to be met as does the price of their distinctive uniforms. From top to toe, each member needs to be kitted out in a Glengarry (a cap), kilt, tunic, sporran, belt, waistcoat, ties, pins, broach and even socks and tassels. 'It's a full, very formal rig-out,' Denis smiles. The Tartan used is a green one, called Modern McKenzie and is, of course, Scottish.
Apart from a temporary lapse of activities around the late 1990's, the band has been part and parcel of Killeshin since its inception.
Many of the players who start out at a young age would have a very good interest in music in general. 'Killeshin National School has a great tradition of music so we tend to see that as a nice recruiting area,' Denis points out. Players will come from all around the area though and are more than welcome to become part of the band.
They play all year round with May Sunday being one of their most important days out. Apart from the parade, the Killeshin committee organises a field day that takes place the same day and has proven to be a great day out for the family.
St. Patrick's Day is another highlight when the band's talents are much sought after. 'Last year we played four parades in one day so we were dashing from one place to another,' Denis recalls.The band also get to gig abroad when they got to play on New York's Fifth Avenue in 2003 while in subsequent years, they were invited to Birmingham. 'Fifth Avenue was a great experience,' Denis says. ' But we really enjoyed the U.K. parades even more because they were a lot more personal. We were there because we were invited by ex-pats who'd have an interest in the band.'
Apart from parades, the Killeshin Pipe Band have in recent years begun to compete in pipe competitions. This year, they were deemed the best in a drum corps category and bass tenor section in Arklow, where they came in at fourth overall place.
'Competitions keep the youngsters interested because it generates excitement for them,' Denis concludes. 'For them, too, the camaraderie is great because we meet up at least once a week, all year round. Then, of course, you get to play an instrument and the trips abroad are an added bonus. We all enjoy it.'
- Elizabeth LEE