Lisburn City & Castlereagh Championships 2016, Moira

The Final contest before the World Championships was scheduled for Moira - thankfully only a short jaunt away from Gilnahirk. Contests in Moira Demesne are generally pleasant affairs. It is a good venue with ample parking and a compact site which lends to a pleasant atmosphere. This year's competition was par for the course.

Grade 4b usually kicks off each Championships which means early starts for Gilnahirk week after week. A draw time close to noon will generally necessitate a warm up starting at 10am or so. Adding in traveling time to the more remote locations can play havoc with one's statutory right to a Saturday morning lie in. However, once or twice a year the Branch will take pity and give us a later kick off. This was one such time. The Band was drawn to play after 3pm - practically evening time!

Notwithstanding the late start, members generally arrived early enough to down the traditional breakfast baps and cups of tea long before a pipe was puffed or a drum belted.

Pre-competition practice was a generally relaxed affair and the Band strolled into final tuning in good shape. The performance was strong and melodic. The interplay between pipes and drums is an important feature of the judging - indeed there is an ensemble judge specifically tasked with taking a broader view of the whole band performance - and the Band has been continuing to work on delivering the most musical sets it possibly can.

Content with the performance, there was only time for a brief listen to Grade One before the Finale was underway. Once again, the contest was graced by an overseas presence - this time in the shape of New Zealand Police Pipe Band, en route to Glasgow next week.

As for the Finale - it could scarcely have gone better - the Band was placed First in the Grade and also lifted Best Drums and Best Bass Section. Drum Major Lucas Adamson placed second in his Grade. It felt like we had won the lottery!

Pipe Major Robert Greer formed the Band up to march off after the National Anthem and colleagues from other bands were rushing over to offer congratulations and wishing us all the best for the World Championships. No pressure!

One week to go - if you want to hear the sort of performance we need to repeat in Glasgow, here is our Moira run...

Wish us luck!

Ulster Championships 2016, Antrim Castle Gardens

After the All-Irelands came the Ulster Championships. This year's contest was to take place at a new venue - Antrim Castle Gardens. After some unhelpful scaremongering from Facebook trolls had raised concerns about parking facilities, Gilnahirk members took no chances and set off up the M2 Motorway in good time. In fact, the Northern Ireland Branch had come up trumps on the venue with good parking and a nice compact venue, close to the town.

Under the direction of Acting Pipe Major Robert Greer, the Band dodged the couple of showers and delivered a strong performance in a Grade which has been becoming steadily more competitive over the course of the season. After a few years of patchy performances it has been greatly encouraging for the Band to know that each time we enter the arena the crowd expects a musical and technically strong ensemble.

For the first time in a couple of contests, there was no qualification to negotiate, so with the performance out of the way members were free to hit the burger stalls and even risk the occasional ice cream.

With the World Championships now on the horizon, the contest was well attended by both bands and spectators and standards continue to increase as the trip to Glasgow looms.

Once again, the Band collected silverware - this time lifting Third place overall and winning the drumming. This makes our drum corps the current All-Ireland and Ulster Champions!

Only one more domestic contest remains before the Band sets off for Glasgow and the World Pipe Band Championships. The strong local showings this year have provided the ideal boost in the run up to the "Worlds" but the pressure in on to keep it up at our next outing in Moira - let's retain the momentum!

If you weren't there - or you just want to hear it again - here is the performance from the Ulster Championships...

All Ireland Championships 2016, Malahide

It's something of an understatement to say that the preparation at Malahide was somewhat disrupted. A decision had been taken to travel down as a group on a bus - and the planning had been impeccable. All members arrived on time at the various pick up points and good time was made - even allowing for a brief refreshment stop at the Applegreen service station.

However, upon arriving in Malahide we discovered that the security staff were taking their job a little too seriously. They appeared to be securing the site to such an extent that they weren't going to have it contaminated with any competitors. Having been directed round in circles for about half an hour and at one point been told that the only bus parking available was about two miles from the field, the coach was eventually parked and members began the long hike to the arena.

At that stage two drummers had been abandoned elsewhere in the area and it looked like the Band could be competing in the qualifier with only three snare drummers.

This was not exactly the relaxed run up we had hoped for.

Nevertheless, the lost sheep were located, pipes were footered with and drums were tweaked before Gilnahirk hit the line. Despite the chaotic start to the day the Band delivered a confident performance and sat back to await the list of finalists.

Qualification secured, we didn't have long to wait before having to take to the circle again for the second panel of judges. Once again, there was a well-received musical performance and plenty of appreciative words from fellow competitors once we had played.

Facilities at the event were not up to usual standard and the day was plagued with frequent heavy showers, but members were hopeful of results that would make up for the trials of the day.

The Finale took place under clearing skies and the mood was certainly helped by the announcement that the Band had secured Fourth overall, won our qualifying section, collected Best Bass Section and the Drum Corps had been named All Ireland Champions!

To top it all, our Drum Major, Lucas Adamson had been crowned All Ireland Champion as well!

All in all, a successful day and plenty of smiling happy faces on the thankfully less eventful trip back to Belfast.

For those who didn't make it down, or perhaps spent their day circling the venue without actually getting in - here is the Band's performance in the Final for your enjoyment...

United Kingdom Championships 2016, Stormont

Glancing at an overcast sky and nervously checking the weather forecast every few minutes, members of Gilnahirk saddled up and set off for the most local of local contests at the Stormont Estate in Belfast.

Although just round the corner from Gilnahirk, the Stormont contest is one of the "Majors" organised by the parent body for piping and drumming - the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association. Alongside the other major Championships it forms part of the league of contests which contribute to the RSPBA Champion of Champions competition and thus attracts all the superstar bands from Scotland to compete alongside the local talent.

In fact, this year the draw had extended even further afield with Dowco Triumph Street Pipe Band from Canada making the trip to Belfast - our Mid Section players were quick to make new friends!

Such was the draw of the competition that Gilnahirk's grade had attracted enough entrants to require a qualifying competition. Thankfully spared the worst of the rain showers in the morning, the Band successfully negotiated the heat to make it through to the afternoon final.

Once again, the Grade 4b Final was scheduled alongside the Grade One contest, which meant that only our diehard fans were there to see the Band perform for the second group of Judges in one day.

It was perhaps fair to say that the Band had actually acquitted itself slightly better in the qualification than in the Final, but it was still a reasonably solid performance and, given the lateness of the hour, there wasn't long to wait before we got to hear the verdict from the four men with the judging pens.

Third place was secured and the drummers achieved a highly creditable second place, under the impressive leadership of Leading Drummer Colin Fullerton. The Drum Corps has seen consistent improvement and the results have really started to attract attention over the season to date.

Here is the performance from the Final to mull over...

It is perhaps a reflection of how far the Band has come that the third place almost represented a slight disappointment. At the same contest last year, fourth place had been achieved and sent the band into raptures - this year, sights are set even higher.

Onwards and upwards!

Mid-Ulster Championships 2016, Cookstown

It was with a loud collective sigh of relief that the men and women of Gilnahirk set off for Cookstown High School on 4 June 2016. After a couple of years of exile at the soulless Mid Ulster Sports Arena, the championships had returned to the altogether more pleasant surroundings at Coolnafrankey.

Having been directed to park around thirty miles from the playing fields, it was merely a 45 minute trot at a brisk pace before the Band emerged through the bushes to the splendid sight of the array of burger vans and sweetie vendors.

After the traditional million calorie breakfast treats, practice began in earnest. The Grade was as competitive as ever and nerves were jangling as Gilnahirk took to the line. The performance was solid and musical and the sages in the crowd were once again stroking their beards appreciatively. For the second successive week, Grade 4b was limited to only two judges - one piping and one drumming.

Instruments were hastily abandoned and further sustenance was located. Burgers were consumed with gusto. Minerals were slurped. The occasional shandy was gently supped.

Once again, we have a little video to let you all get a notion of the generalised chaos which passes for a Band contest....

After the Grade One contest had wound up, the Finale zipped through quite efficiently. In what we believe may be a World first, the Band used a 360 degree camera to record the March Past - you can see that video on our Facebook page - where is really seems to have gone down a storm!

Hearts were in mouths as the results were called. Our Drum Major, Lucas Adamson again secured a prize - lifting fifth in the Junior Grade from a tight field of fifteen.

It was clearly a good omen as the Band itself was then called not once, but three times in the Grade 4b results!! It is fair to say that collecting first overall, Best Bass Section and Best Marching & Deportment made it a pretty good day at the office - and a great result in advance of the United Kingdom Championships at Stormont next week.

Have a listen to what the Judges clearly enjoyed...

A week of hard work lies ahead, in advance of the biggest contest on Northern Ireland shores this year - if you have never seen a Major contest before, give yourself a treat and come along to see us just down the road from Gilnahirk!

County Fermanagh Championships 2016, Enniskillen

In a quite deliberate attempt to confuse the more easily bewildered bandsmen, Northern Ireland Branch of the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association conspired with the powers that be to hold a contest in Enniskillen without any rain last weekend. There were rumours that the start of proceedings might have to be delayed due to large numbers of participants who had been unable to locate the venue as they had "never seen it in sunshine".

The men and women of Gilnahirk are not so easily foxed and stripped off their galoshes to warm up in conditions which were positively....warm!

With an almost full compliment of players available, Pipe Major Tate took the Band to the line in good time and in good tune. For the first of two successive contests, the judging contingent in Grade 4B was limited to just a single piping and single drumming mandarin. Nevertheless, the amateur adjudicators in the crowd indulged in their traditional chin-stroking and pronounced themselves impressed.

Satisfied with a strong run, the members scattered across the field to listen to other bands and eat as many burgers as possible. These tasks were accomplished with some style.

Unusually, we have put together another video to let you all have a flavour of the day...

The Contest ran like clockwork and soon it was time for the results. The Band collected two awards this time round, with third in the Grade and also the Marching and Deportment gong.

For those who were unable to make it, here is the performance in all its splendour...

The roadshow rolls on, with the next stop in Cookstown on 4 June - see you there!

Ards & North Down Championships 2016, Bangor

After a hard Winter's practice and a disappointingly soggy trip to Lusk, the Band was pleased to kick off the 2016 season proper close to home in the sunny surroundings at Castle Gardens, Bangor.

Pipe Band contests always seem that little bit better in sunshine and although it got a little chilly by the end of the day, there was barely a cloud in the sky.

The day kicked off with the drummers making their traditional trip to the food vans for the "breakfast of champions" - which seems to consist of an entire fry in a bap. After they were hosed down to remove the grease the corps set about the more serious business of the warm-up. The pipers were already in full flow, footering with reeds and yanking drones hither and thither.

Content with sound and with nerves jangling, the Band took to the line shortly after 12.30pm in a massive Grade 4b. Playing early in the Grade gave members a chance to join the surrounding chin-strokers in the crowd to size up the opposition. Although Grade 4b is the bottom of the ranking system, it has been becoming consistently more competitive over recent years and it seems that 2016 will continue that pattern with a lot of strong outfits on display.

The set concluded with a healthy round of applause from an appreciative audience and, with the work done, members roamed through Bangor in search of sustenance and renewing old acquaintances.

As usual, the social part of the day was at least as much fun as the playing. Again, it all seems that bit nicer in sunglasses, rather than sou'westers!

The Finale and speeches were mercifully rapid and then came the business of the results. Wise heads in the crowd had tipped the Band for a prize but nothing can be taken for granted until the name gets called!

One good omen was when Lucas Adamson, the Band's Drum Major, was called with a handy fifth place in the Junior Grade. It's great to see Lucas continue to develop in what is only his second year in this division.

Then it was over to the Band results - in first place - GILNAHIRK! The cheers had barely subsided when the Pipe Major had to return to the front to pick up the cup for best piping! Not to be outdone, the drummers scooped the prize for Best Drum Corps! A clean sweep! It was perhaps particularly pleasing to hear that the ensemble judge had also placed the Band first - an endorsement of the tight integration between all sections.

Understandably, the ranks rapidly degenerated into flagrant celebration - pipers and drummers aggressively grabbing cups from eachother for the opportunity to have their photos taken! Even the Pipe Major cracked a smile at one point!

All in all, it was a fantastic start to the local contest season and a solid base to build on. Congratulations to Pipe Major Carson Tate, Pipe Sergeant Robert Greer and Leading Drummer Colin Fullerton who have steered the Band back to the top of the Grade. Plenty more hard work is required to keep us there!

Happy New Year!

With 2015 receding in the rear-view mirror and 2016 looming large, the Band would like to wish all supporters, friends and family a Happy and Musical 2016.

2015 was a good year for the band with a return to the prizes on a frequent basis and a great improvement in musical performance. We have already seen a boost in membership and practices have been solidly attended over the early months of the off-season. That's not to say that there is any sign of complacency creeping in and there remains a lot of hard work to be done if the Band is to continue to progress this year.

The Contest season will be upon us sooner than you think - and we have a few bits and pieces in the pipeline before then - keep your eyes on the website and Facebook page to stay in the loop!

Annual General Meeting 2015

The Band met on 31st August to conduct the business of the Annual General Meeting at the end of a successful 2015 season.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the AGM was a good natured affair, with an opportunity to reflect on the best season which the Band has enjoyed in over a decade. 2014 had ended with the Band collecting a prize at the Lowland Gathering - the only trophy collected that year.

2015 had seen that success improved upon massively with prizes picked up at almost every contest attended. Perhaps the highlight of the season had been the Fourth place achieved at the United Kingdom Championships in the Stormont Estate. This was the first time the Band had secured a placing at one of the "Major" championships since 2000.

It was no surprise then to hear that the leadership team in the Band was returned unopposed to office. Pipe Major Carson Tate and Leading Drummer Colin Fullerton had shown their dedication throughout the season and had been wholeheartedly supported through the ranks. Pipe Sergeant Robert Greer completed the musical team and his return to the Band had played a vital part in the Gilnahirk resurgence.

Much of the time at the meeting revolved around discussion of how to continue to build on this year's success and the enthusiasm on display would bode well for another great season in 2016.

After the formal part of the evening, there was the traditional adjournment to the kitchen for a light supper and a lot of happy smiling (and well fed) faces left the hall, determined to see Gilnahirk continue its path to the top of the pile once again!


Lowland Gathering 2015, Stranraer

After a successful local competition season, the Band was delighted to be able to return to Stranraer to round off 2015 in style. Last year's Lowland Gathering had seen Gilnahirk lift its first playing trophy in some time and set the Band on the path to more winning ways. Naturally, it was with a sense of enthusiasm that the trip was planned.

Predictably, the bulk of that enthusiasm lay in tatters as the ragged group assembled in the wee small hours outside the hall. The forecast was gloomy at best and the prospect of a rough crossing was ahead. After wiping the worst of the sleep from eyes and dosing with anti-seasickness medication, the bus was boarded and Gilnahirk departed for the docks.

Thankfully, the Met Office's pessimism was not well-founded and the ferry set off on relatively calm seas. Band members soon commandeered the best spots on the boat for a hearty breakfast and a crafty power nap.

Arriving in Stranraer it was just a few more minutes on the bus to the contest field. Members decanted to the field, still bleary-eyed and in search of further sustenance. Given the early start, the locals were assembling the arena but thankfully some of the caterers were already up and running, so bacon butties were acquired and devoured with gusto.

Pipes and drums in hand, the Band started to warm up - under surprisingly pleasant skies. The Met Office had been predicting howling wind and rain but, thus far, all seemed set fair and the pipes were going strong. As is now usual on the Stranraer trip, the Band had quite a number of friends and supporters along with it for the day, so there was plenty of help and encouragement available.

It was still early, so there was a chance for another comfort break or two before Gilnahirk was scheduled to take to the ring. At the appointed hour, the Band entered the arena and again delivered a solid performance to an appreciative crowd.

This year, instead of heading en masse to a local hotel for food, members milled about the field and enjoyed the hospitality of the adjacent bowling club for much of the rest of the afternoon. A few brave souls entered the town, in search of haggis...

The Finale was a well organised and good-natured affair. The Band's Drum Major, Lucas Adamson, again finished off his season picking up some well-deserved silverware and the Band was pleased to receive the Clan Hannay Shield for the second year in succession, once again finishing just behind the local band, Lochryan. Still, a nice second place to finish off the season is nothing to grumble about! It was also gratifying to see the ranks of the Band swell again with the addition of Sullivan Hodgen to the Drum Corps. Hopefully this is the start of a long career with Gilnahirk...

Although the weather had held for the day itself, the rain started to team down as the Band hit the port. Thankfully, the wind held off, which made for a pleasant enough crossing back to Belfast. Smiling faces were the order of the evening as the bus pulled up to the Church Hall. Not a bad end to the 2015 season at all - and something to build on in 2016...