Time marches on
but Killeshin band is still going strong
article appeared in the Carlow Nationalist on Wednesday, September
The Killeshin Pipe Band was formed 40 years
ago because another band, scheduled to lead out the May sodality
procession, failed to turn up.
Every year, for as long as locals can
remember, there have been sodality processions on the first Sunday
after May 3 from Graiguecullen to Killeshin.
It cannot be recalled what band was due to
play in 1964, but bands that were blamed included the Swan,
Ballylinan and Doonane, all now defunct.
According to 74-year-old tenor drummer
Johnny Kealy, who had played with the Swan pipe band in 1961 and is
now playing with Killeshin, “there was near murder after May Sunday
when the band didn’t appear. I can’t say for sure which band it
A parish meeting was called for May 28,
1964. By all accounts, the hall below the old church was packed with
people, eager to ensure the area would never be left without a band
again on May Sunday.
A committee was formed to organise the
formation of a pipe band in the parish. Those who sat on the first
committee were: chairman Reverend Father Edward Matthews,
vice-chairman Liam Bolton, secretary Mick Hennessy, treasurer
Doran. Committee members: Johnny McEvoy, Jack Shiels, Michael Kelly,
Jimmy Dunne, Bill Dunne, Martin Whelan, Liam Brennan, Jimmy Wade,
Joe Kehoe, Seamus Hearns and Michael Rice.
The first job was to find someone capable
of teaching pipes and drums to the eager parishioners.
“There was a lot of music in the Dunnes.
They had played with Carlow bands. They were the only ones at the
time that had any proper involvement with bands,” remarked Johnny
The Dunnes were duly called upon to impart
The next course of action was to raise the
money for the instruments. A house-to-house collection took place
the following month. Every home in the parish was prevailed upon to
assist. Contributions averaged £1 per house, with the occasional one
donating double that. Poorer families gave 2/6d. When it was totted
up, the grand total was £88-13s-3d. Fortnightly dances were held in
the old school and the total raised from these was £318.
With the funding in place, the next task
was the acquisition of uniforms and instruments. They acquired
second-hand uniforms from Arklow at a total cost of £63, second-hand
instruments costing £40 and one new tenor drum for the princely sum
By May the following year, the Killeshin
Pipe Band was ready to go and, indeed, their first outing was to
lead that year’s sodality procession.
Two Rathvilly men had a huge impact on the
band in the early stages. They were brothers Paddy and
O’Neill. According to pipe major Michael Ryan, “they were the first
to bring good piping and drumming. They had played with the
Castledermot band and were experienced in competitions.”
Ten-years later, the second-hand uniforms
had become somewhat frayed and a new look was called for. “Someone
knew someone inside the guards,” said Michael Ryan. So Garda tunics,
minus the badges and buttons, were obtained. To enhance their
appearance they had to stitch on braiding. “There was a lot of work
in them. Most guards were very big men back then,” said Michael.
During the first ten years, the band had
also played at the Stradbally Steam Rally, which also celebrates its
40th anniversary this year.
1970 was a great year for Ireland when Dana
won the Eurovision song contest. It was to prove to be the biggest
event for the band as well. Dana was due to perform in the Ritz
Ballroom in Carlow town shortly after her win. The band was booked
to pipe her into town. Johnny Kealy recalls Dana, “singing to the
crowd from the top window of the Old Town Hall”.
The band was also called upon to perform
for politicians. During his visit to Kilkenny they were asked to
play for Eamon de Valera at an election rally. “Those things came
through the local Fianna Fáil people,” said Johnny.
Pipe major Ryan said: “We played at
everything you could think of. Political things were very popular
back then. All the politicians wanted was a bit of noise to let
people know they were in town.”
Their third change of uniform came in 1982.
It took 22 years for the members to decide
to take on other bands in competition. In preparation for
competitions, the band had to learn marching drills. This was
achieved, said Michael “by marching up and down the road and over
the hill. The practice base was underneath the chapel. The pipers
were downstairs, drummers upstairs.”
The first competition they attended was in
Rathcoole, Dublin in April 1986. According to the chairperson of the
present day committee and pipe sergeant Ger Dunne they were
But in the next competition held in
Kilkenny, they won their grade. Indeed they won their grades in a
number of competitions after that until, finally, they achieved the
‘champions of champions’ award.
The band took a huge body blow in 1987 when
their pipe major, Tony Burke, upped sticks and moved to Britain. “He
had been a huge influence on the band. His daughter Lisa, who went
to the local school here, now presents the weather on Sky
television,” said Michael Ryan.
Tony Burke was the goal-keeper on the
All-Ireland minor team that was defeated by Cork in 1966.
In 1992, the band was contacted by music
promoter JC Pomery asking could they perform in France. All expenses
were being offered. They jumped at the offer. For 28 days the band
played all over France. They now refer to the experience as their
‘Tour de France’.
The following year they returned to France
and performed on the circuit again. “There was a lot of wine
flowing,” said Ger Dunne.
For the past 33-years the band has held its
annual cabaret on New Year’s Eve in Behan’s of the Grove. An annual
indoor auction is also held to raise funds every October bank
holiday weekend in the community hall. Each year, the band holds
field days and also takes part in the May Sunday three-day festival
and holds an annual flag day around Carlow town.
Possibly the proudest moment in the long
history of the band was when it led the Laois Association in New
York in the St Patrick’s Day Parade. The band has also led Laois
contingents through the streets of London and Birmingham on the
national saint’s day. The Killeshin Pipe Band will again be in
Birmingham next year for the parade.
Pipe Major Michael Ryan said: “Without the
support of the parish there would be no band. We’ve got a lot of
support over the years and also huge support from the Glenside where
we hold regular functions.”
Present day officers and committee are:
President Fr John Fingleton, chairman Ger Dunne, vice-chairman
Brennan (founding member), secretary Carmel Ryan, treasurer
Hearns, pipe major Michael Ryan. Committee
Johnny Kealy, Tom O’Regan,
Peter Ryan, Michael Ryan, Pat Brennan (Ballylinan),
Tess Faulkner (Rathvilly), Phil Gaffney,
and Dora Fennell.
The band’s celebrations to mark their 40th
year will be held on Saturday, October 2. Proceedings begin at 7pm
with Mass in Killeshin Church followed by a dinner dance in the
Glenside. Special invitations have been issued to 88 former members
to join in the celebrations. Tickets are available from Ger Dunne
059 91 41943, Carmel Ryan at 087 940 3623 or
Michael Ryan at 059 91
The current band members are: Drum major
Denis Ryan, pipe major Michael Ryan, pipe sergeant
Ger Dunne, pipers Michelle Ryan, Fiona, Sinead, Padraic Brennan
and their father Pat
Brennan (Ballylinan), Carol Faulkner, Laura Brennan, Mary Faulkner,
Jane Dunne and Joe Dempsey. Base drummer is
Tom O’Regan. On side
drums are Hugh Connaghan, Damien Whelan, Mary Hutton
Dunne. Tenor drummers are Johnny Kealy,
Peter Ryan and Michael Ryan.
Trainee members are Kevin Brennan,
Amanda Brennan, Joan Faulkner, Eoin Geary and Sarah
The band practices every Tuesday and Friday
nights in the community hall from 7.30pm to 9.30pm.
“The band is bigger than anyone. It’s being
going for the past 40 years and is very much part of the parish. I
hope it continues for another 40 years,” said the Chairman Ger
Source: Carlow Nationalist - Thomas
Crosbie Holdings, Ireland, 2006.
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