Gilnahirk Pipe Band

Formed 1919

North West Championships 2015, Portrush

The end of season shindig at Portrush has become quite the fixture in the contest calendar over the past few years. There is the chance to congratulate those bands who topped the tree at the World Championships the week before - and even the possibility of some fine end of August weather - if you're really lucky.

As is now customary, Northern Ireland bands performed admirably at the Worlds and there was a healthy amount of silverware on display - but there was still the small matter of the North West Championships to resolve before the concentrated back slapping could commence and the ice creams could be consumed.

After battling through the traffic to get a parking space close to the Recreation grounds the Band warmed up under grey skies. Perhaps surprisingly the Portrush Grade was even bigger than had been the case at the Ulster Championships, so there was plenty of competition for space.

Another solid performance was delivered and the Band members soon scattered to the corners of Portrush for refreshment and the exchange of end of season gossip.

The Finale was a drawn out affair with the announcement of Champion of Champion winners alongside the winners on the day. Another fourth place was the result for the Band - as well as a fourth in drumming from a Grade of eighteen. Perhaps as pleasing was the fact that the Band achieved third place in the Champion of Champions - the "league" over the course of the year. That sort of consistency has eluded Gilnahirk in recent times and delivery of solid performances throughout the year is a definite sign that the corner has been turned and the Band is once again ready to challenge for the top honours, week in , week out.

The parade of the town was the usual stop-start affair - as was the traffic jam leaving the town....

It's all over for most Bands at this point - but not for Gilnahirk. Next week will see the Band on the ferry to Stranraer to visit with our friends at the Lowland Gathering once again - can't wait!!

Ulster Championships 2015, Rostrevor

After a gap of quite a few years, the Northern Ireland Branch made a welcome return to the picturesque surroundings of Rostrevor for the Ulster Championships on Saturday, 8th August.

In keeping with the rest of this summer's dreary weather, the day started in a less than promising fashion, but the rain largely held off - perhaps just as well, given the relatively exposed venue.

Gilnahirk had been drawn to play in the middle of the pack of fifteen  bands - the Ulster Championships always brings a good number of outfits to the field. After a fairly relaxed warmup, the Band strode into the arena to deliver a solid and confident performance. It was all in the hands of the judges from that point.

A decent Grade One turnout meant that there was plenty to watch for the avid bandsman and the usual top quality Gilnahirk catering meant that all were well fed and content by the time the Finale came round.

The Band was not to be disappointed. A tidy fourth place was the verdict from the judging panel - and this included the second best piping scores in the Grade. It was another step in the right direction for a Band which continues to improve with every performance.

Nest week will see a lot of Northern Ireland bands head to Glasgow for the World Pipe Band Championships but sadly we won't be joining them. Logistical reasons have meant that the Band's return to Glasgow Green will be delayed for another year, but we wish all our compatriots all the best - bring back plenty of silverware folks!

Lisburn City & Castlereagh Championships 2015, Moira

Buoyed by the last couple of Championships, the Band hit the road again for the next stop in the 2015 season last Saturday. The location was Moira Demesne which hadn't hosted a contest in some years.

After a season which has so far been characterised by fairly miserable weather, members made sure to pack their capes and headed off up the M1. The venue was probably better than most remembered and having had the now traditional squads of fluorescent-jacketed council employees engaged in choreographed pointing at car parking spaces, vehicles were skidded to a halt and instruments unpacked.

Initially the skies appeared pleasingly blue and the Band started to warm up in pleasant temperatures to appreciative nods from supporters. Pipes were sounding well and drummers were playing nicely after their traditional bacon baps.

Soon it was time to play and, as if on cue, the weather started to turn. As the Band took to the line the first rain of the day started to fall and continued to mizzle its way through the entire performance. The men and women of Gilnahirk are made of stern stuff and delivered a strong performance, drawing one of the loudest rounds of applause in the Grade.

Of course, as soon as the playing was out of the way the weather improved again - typical! The catering corps in the Band had delivered a fantastic pot of Lentil soup for lunch, together with a selection of pies which seemed to draw a number of non-members towards the van.... It seems that the reputation of the Gilnahirk food is reaching far and wide...

The rest of the day was the usual mixture of listening to other bands, gossiping with other bandsman about the upcoming World Championships and complaining about the weather (a pattern is emerging).

Sadly, the say finished with something of a whimper. A fairly substantial difference of opinion in the piping judges left the Band just out of the prizes in Sixth, with the drummers finishing a creditable Fourth despite only fielding three players due to work commitments.

No matter - we are dusting ourselves off and getting ready for the next outing in Rostrevor on the 8th of August - in the meantime, have a listen to the performance and judge for yourselves...

Portaferry Gala Parade 2015

For the second year running, the Band was delighted to be asked to participate in the closing parade for Portaferry Gala week. It is always pleasant to receive an invitation to any event, but it is particularly gratifying to be asked back - it suggests that the previous showing was appreciated!

The theme for Band outings in 2015 has seemed to be a sense of foreboding about the weather and even Frank Mitchell on UTV was looking nervous about how the evening would pan out. We should have known better. After all, Frank Mitchell is wrong about almost everything...

The parade was the usual stop/start affair and took over a couple of hours to snake its way through the town. The crowds were heavy and appreciative which is a pleasant combination.

Slightly peculiarly, we even recruited a few enthusiastic locals into the ranks. What they lacked in musical ability they more than made up for with rowdiness!

The additions to the ranks did not only come from the local community. The more eagle-eyed spectator may have noticed a well known bass drummer making a guest appearance on the pipes. Very odd. Very odd indeed.

Perhaps the high point of the evening was the fact that piper Jeremy was making his first appearance in the MacDuff tartan. Jeremy has been with the Band throughout the winter and it was great to see him on the street for the first time. Well done!

The evening concluded with the obligatory visit to the Chip Shop for some healthy low fat cuisine and then the long trip home. Hopefully we can do it all again next year....

All Ireland Championships 2015, Omagh

After receiving a huge boost to confidence at the UK Championships, the Band was on the road again for the All Ireland Championships. As the largest of the "local"contests, the All Ireland always carries with it an additional frisson of excitement.

However, as bleary eyed bandsmen stumbled from their beds and pulled back the curtains they were greeted with the sight of disturbingly cloudy skies. During the long drive to Omagh the picture scarcely improved and cars were parked in the semi-quagmire of the rugby club under frequent cloud bursts.

Despite a strong desire to get straight back into the cars and head for home, the Band grumpily assembled and, after the customary bacon butties, were soon tuning and fettling pipes in preparation for the arena.

The weather mercifully improved and Gilnahirk took to the ring under light grey skies. The performance was solid and again drew compliments from the crowd - but, as always, the fate of the Band remained in the hands of the judges.

Some would say that the best part of the day was yet to come - the stellar performance of the Gilnahirk Catering Corps. On the menu were hotdogs (with Secret Sauce) and pavlova to follow. Unsurprisingly, there were no leftovers. Without doubt, the Gilnahirk post-performance refreshments are the best in Ulster...

After bellies had subsided the more discerning members adjourned to the side of the Grade One Arena to watching the piping and drumming superstars strut their stuff. There was much chin stroking and hand-cupping-behind-ears.

The Finale followed - and to the delight of the members Gilnahirk was called out in third place in the grade. Perhaps even more pleasing was the news that one of the piping judges had been of the view that the piping ought to take first spot!

The season takes a short break now and Gilnahirk's next performance will be in Moira on 1st August - so have a listen to the recording of the All Ireland run and come along and see the real thing there....

United Kingdom Championships 2015, Stormont

What a day!

Having anxiously watched the weather forecast all week after the debacle of the Cookstown gales, it was a great pleasure for the Band to assemble under beautiful blue skies at the Stormont Estate. As Gilnahirk lies only a couple of miles from Parliament Buildings, this contest is absolutely on our "turf" but it hasn't always proved to be a happy hunting ground for the Band.

Last year an administrative mix up led to Gilnahirk members only being able to watch from the sidelines as all the superstars in Pipe Bands sauntered into Belfast for one of the "Major" championships. This year there were no such difficulties and with the sun shining down on East Belfast, the day was off to a promising start.

Unfortunately, George was under the weather and John is also on the injured list, but this still allowed the Pipe Major to field seven pipers. as Jessie was tending to her hubby, the bass section was one woman down and the snare line was a slightly depleted corps of three. Nevertheless, everyone was determined to put on the strongest possible performance for the judges and the pipes were booming straight out of the box.

A couple of warm up runs later and the stewards were calling for the Band to take to the arena. Unfortunately, Grade 4B had been scheduled to run simultaneously with Grade 1, so the bulk of the crowd had gathered around the adjacent ring, but there was still a healthy crowd to watch Gilnahirk deliver a performance which probably surpassed any other this season.

Then it was over to the Judges - there was nothing to do but wait. Well - nothing except to hit the burger vans and renew acquaintances with the Scottish brethren who were determined to enjoy the Belfast hospitality.

There wasn't long to wait and the Band was soon on the march past to await the verdict. Having had a prize in the first contest of the year, followed by two fifth places, fingernails were bitten to the quick as the results started to be called.

The announcement of "In fourth place - GILNAHIRK" was greeted with a roar from the Band and all our faithful supporters. This was the Band's first appearance in a Major Championships since winning the World Title in 2000 - no mean feat.

Once the dust had started to settle, various members started to grab for the trophy, shouting "take my picture!" Thankfully, no injuries were sustained.

It was great to see members of other bands rush over to the Band to offer congratulations. The Grade was won by a Scottish band and only one other Northern Ireland band placed above Gilnahirk, giving great encouragement for the rest of the season.

The Band will not be attending the contest in Lurgan next week, but we will be hitting the road once again for the All-Ireland Championships in Omagh on 20 June, so come along and see us as we try to build on our success.... 

Mid-Ulster Championships 2015, Cookstown

When the Mid-Ulster Championships moved from their traditional location at Cookstown High School there were the typical grumbles from bandsmen, never ones keen to embrace change. The new venue at the Mid Ulster Sports Arena lacked any real atmosphere in 2014 and was not favoured by the weather with consistent downpours throughout the course of the day. Indeed, if the event had not largely taken place on artificial pitches it may well have been washed out.

Still, 2015 is another year and we couldn't suffer the same fate two years on the trot? Could we?

It turned out that this time we were to be treated to gale force winds with only occasional rain. The risk of drowning was definitely lower but the possibility of a gust of wind up the kilt propelling bandsmen heavenward before their time was vastly increased.

The good men (and women) of Gilnahirk are unbowed by such trifles. Those who hadn't been blown out to sea somewhere en route huddled together in the lee of a convenient camper van and, after a reasonable period of gurning and whining, got the instruments out, tethered them down and started to warm up. In this instance, "warm up" is decidedly the wrong phrase.

In a large grade, the Band was playing towards the top of the batting order and delivered a solid performance in difficult conditions. Whether the Judges could really deliver a proper verdict with swirling winds carrying sound in all directions remains a matter for debate.

Within seconds of the Pipe Major dismissing the Band, members were scampering towards the Camper Van once again - and this time hearty soup was on the menu - highly appreciated by one and all. As George was celebrating a birthday, dessert was Birthday Cake, accompanied by a rousing chorus of something that sounded a little like "Happy Birthday" - thankfully, no recording survives.

The rest of the day passed in a blur of unpleasant weather, vain efforts to stay warm with tea and coffee and a slightly disappointing verdict from the Judges. Once again, the Band was placed in fifth - just out of the prizes.

Next up is the United Kingdom Championships on 13 June at Stormont Estate where better weather is assured* - come along and say hello!

In the meantime, here is the recording (wind-damaged) of the Cookstown performance for your edification...

*This is written more in hope than expectation....

County Fermanagh Championships 2015

With a draw time in the early afternoon. the bold men and women of Gilnahirk headed west sometime before the dawn chorus had even twittered its first note on the 23rd May, heading for the traditionally damp Enniskillen contest.

Much to the surprise of all assembled, the morning started brightly with relatively few clouds blotting the sky and most of the water remaining in the lakes.

Perhaps even more surprisingly, the geographically and chronologically challenged members all made it to the park in decent time, making for a fairly calm warm up and even allowing a few moments for the drummers to grab a few tasty and healthy snacks.

The Band hit the line late in the Grade with a large crowd gathered to see whether the form shown in Bangor could be maintained. The Branch had thrown a bit of a curve ball with the traditional two piping judges replaced with only one adjudicator which made for a somewhat uncertain results table.

Content with the way the band played, it was probably safe to say that both pipers and drummers were of the view that improvements remained to be made but overall the crowd seemed pleased and impressed with the continuing progress on display.

The Gilnahirk Pipe Band Catering Corps again outdid itself with delicious stew, bread and hearty desserts for all who cared to make the journey to the Campervan of Delights. If this keeps up it is highly likely that most members will be slipping into larger kilts by the end of the season (or even half way through...)

Eager not to disappoint the bandsmen, the weather obliged by taking its traditional turn for the worse and capes were the order of the late afternoon, leading on to a rather damp finale. Gilnahirk unfortunately lost out on the prizes with some idiosyncrasies in the results pushing the band into 5th place - still a massive improvement on the 2014 performance. 

The next stop is another traditionally wet one in Cookstown but for those who can't wait, here is the Enniskillen performance for your listening pleasure....

Ards & North Down Championships 2015

The 2015 season kicked off in style for Gilnahirk with the Bangor contest proving to be a happy hunting ground for silverware.

Pipe Major Tate was able to field eight pipers, complemented by a drum corps consisting of five sides and a bass section of six, under the direction of Leading Drummer Colin Fullerton.

Perhaps unusually, the weather was relatively kind for the competitive opener of the year, although there was certainly no danger of anyone needing treatment for heatstroke! Players arrived in good time, allowing for an undramatic warm up and soon it was time to take to the arena.

Sadly, the trend in recent times has been for dwindling numbers of bands attending contests, and Bangor suffered from no Grade One bands turning out. However, this meant that the RSPBA(NI) has employed only one arena. Consequently the Band played to a larger crowd than would be normal for Grade 4B.

The hard work and dedication of the winter seemed to have paid off and the nerves which have plagued the Band at the start of recent seasons didn't spoil the performance. Leaving the arena the Band was warmly applauded and the sages in the crowd were predicting a healthy result.

Taking nothing for granted, members tucked into lunch and pondered the performance. The 1st Scots Army Band was making a first appearance in the grade and would likely be the wild cards.

After shivering through rest of the afternoon, the troops reassembled for the Finale. After the usual speeches and Drum Major prizes the Band was delighted to hear "In Third place.... Gilnahirk!" - breaking the duck in local competitions which has gone on for far too long. The next outing is already in the books for Enniskillen on Saturday 23rd May - see you all there - and in the meantime, have a listen to our first prize-winning performance of the year...

Under Starter's Orders

You only have to gaze a few days into the future to see it coming - that's right, the 2015 Pipe Band Contest Season is almost upon us.

Gilnahirk's competitive season will kick off this year in Bangor with the Ards and North Down Pipe Band Championships. Drawn to play seventh in Grade 4B at 13.56, we are hopeful that we can start 2015 in the same manner as we finished 2014 at the Lowland Gathering in Stranraer.

Certainly, a huge amount of work has been put in over the winter and spring - almost every week has seen two practice nights and breaks from the schedule were limited to a handful of days around Christmas and Easter. Pipe Major Carson Tate and Leading Drummer Colin Fullerton have demanded (and received) dedication and hard work from all players and the Band is looking forward to getting onto the grass to allow our supporters to see what improvements have been made.

New sporrans and flashes have largely finished the project to "reupholster" the Band - we hope the playing can match up to the suave good looks!!

If you are anywhere around the Bangor area on 16 May 2015, come and along to Castle Grounds and say hello.....(and a little bit of cheering wouldn't go amiss!)