Gilnahirk Pipe Band

Formed 1919

Here We Go Again...

Next Saturday will see Gilnahirk take to the grass for the first time in 2014 at the City of Lisburn Pipe Band Championships. For those who want to come and cheer along, the contest information can be found here.

It has been a hard Winter for the Band with the loss of our Pipe Major, Ricky Newell, tearing a huge hole in the fabric of Gilnahirk.

However, the project of rebuilding Gilnahirk which Ricky had been a central part of was always bigger than any individual.

New Pipe Major, Carson Tate, has stepped up to the mark and spent many hours with the Band, tuning, teaching, reviewing video practices and inspiring players to push themselves harder than ever before. As a result, the Band will be out for the first contest of the domestic season - something which has proved impossible to manage for several years.

The run of poor weather has made it difficult to secure outdoor practice time, but this weekend the Band stepped into the (comparative) sunshine and spent three hours or so, working on ensemble effect and tuning in a more realistic competition environment. Although we can never replicate the thrill of the walk to the line, this sort of "dry run" is a massive boost to preparation.

Of course, the (now traditional) refreshments went down pretty well too.

If you want to be part of Gilnahirk, why not come and see us at the Hall on Monday nights from 8pm, or email us here?

The Band is scheduled to play at Lisburn at 12.15pm - see you there!!

Burns Supper 2014

In a move which clearly offended against good sense, the Band girded its collective loins and staged its second Burns Supper on Saturday 1 February 2014.

Last year's event had been a great success, but it had been very hard work indeed. Band members were asked to turn their hands to many activities well outside their comfort zones - and to do so with smiles on their faces. Anyone familiar with the traditionally surly countenance of the UIster piper will understand the problem...

However, in the spirit of "that which does not kill us makes us stronger", plans were hatched, amended, dispensed with, re-hatched, disputed, abandoned, argued over, and finally made.

As now seems traditional, a huge burden fell on the shoulders of resident Bass drummer and chef-extraordinaire, Michael Harrison. Michael (with the assistance of his wife, Alison) was slaving over a hot stove for most of the day preparing the haggis, neaps and tatties which formed the centre-piece of the evening. The food went down extremely well - and we can report a second year on the trot with no fatalities. Of course, no haggis can be consumed without first being addressed in the traditional fashion and those duties were again performed with gusto by Matthew Warrick. After a certain amount of sword waving, gut-rubbing and mild burping, the job was done.

Glad to have their table-waiting duties over, the Band retreated to the safety of the tuning room whilst the programme of entertainment commenced.

This year the Band was delighted to welcome The Thompson Brothers, a hugely popular duo from the nearby Ards peninsula. They treated the crowd to a combination of Ulster-Scots tunes and gospel music which left the audience wanting more. They definitely picked up a few more groupies on the night!

Next we had the ladies from the Belfast Branch of the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society who had nipped away from their usual Saturday night class to show us their skills. Their easy charm and obvious enthusiasm for dance was infectious.

They were followed by Matthew's return to the stage - this time along with Iain Carlisle. As "two fifths of Risin' Stour" they energised the crowd even more with a masterclass on what you can do with a guitar and an accordion - and a huge amount of talent.

The Band then took to the stage for the final performance of the night, concluding with Piper Jonty playing Auld Lang Syne to a highly appreciative audience.

The night was again a great success and the Band would like to thank all those who helped out. You know who you are - but we should single out a couple of folks for special mention. Firstly, our Chairman's wife, Thelma Jackson, found herself pressed into service at the last minute as compere - and she did a marvellous job. Michael and Alison were spectacular in the kitchen all day. Carson was superb taking the Band on following our Pipe Major's recent illness.

It was fantastic to see our Pipe Major, Ricky Newell enjoying his evening in the Hall - and helping out in the tuning hall - after his recent illness.

All in all, it was an enjoyable night - and who knows, we might even try it again next year....

Happy New Year!

The Officers, members, and the wider Gilnahirk family wish all of our suppporters and friends a peaceful, happy and Piping Hot New Year!

The 2013 season (and the whole year!) proved incredibly rewarding for the Band and saw some massive changes - but we are not done yet! If you want to be part of our team for 2014, get in touch with us by email, Twitter, or through Facebook. We would love to have you along!

We offer classes for learners and have several members enrolled with the Piping & Drumming School. We are already well advanced in preparations for the new season, including a trip to the World Championships, so come and see us at practice on Mondays at 8pm.

First practice of 2014 will be on Saturday 6th January at 10am - make joining Gilnahirk your best ever New Year's Resolution!

As a wee treat, here is a look back at 2013 with Gilnahirk - come and join us if you want to be part of 2014....

Gilnahirk Christmas Dinner 2013

After a year which has seen the Band grow into a close and cohesive unit, it was perhaps no surprise that several members suggested that the whole "family" should come together round the dinner table at Christmas time.

After the predictable jokes about menus featuring haggis cooked by the Bass Drummer had subsided, the project was turned over to our ad hoc social committee - Jessie and Betty. Under their expert command, the date and location were set and members were only left to cough up the cost and consider what finery they would wear to the social event of the year.

Despite a few unavoidable Christmas diary conflicts, the attendance was great and Gilnahirk largely took over the bar at The Auld House in Moneyreagh. The menu was traditional Christmas fayre and was clearly to the taste of the Band - clean plates all round!

It was also great to see not only Band members but spouses, parents and significant others - all there to reflect on 2013 and look forward to 2014. Jonty and Wee Maggie clearly took the unofficial prize for Christmas spirit, sporting Santa hats and earrings - very festive!

Thoroughly fed and watered, Gilnahirk Pipe Band drifted off into the night - wondering if the Pipe Major would let us have tomorrow off!

Gilnahirk Presbyterian Church Autumn Fair 2013

Risking autumn showers for the fourth year in succession, members of the Band performed again at the Gilnahirk Church Fair in October.

The relationship between the Band and the Church grows ever closer. This year the Band was delighted to host a Burns Supper in the Hall which was fantastically well supported by the Congregation. Later in the year, the Church was kind enough to hold an evening service to facilitate dedication of the new uniforms. Combined with strong personal relationships with individuals in the Church, it makes for a warm engagement which the Band hopes will persist.

It is therefore a great pleasure to be able to play at the opening of the Fair and to "give a little back" that way. Forecasters were thankfully wrong and the performance was beneath threatening skies only. The Fair was as busy as ever and an appreciative crowd enjoyed the music as they prepared themselves for bargain hunting.

With the final official engagement for 2013 out of the way, thoughts for the Band turn back to preparations for 2014 - so if you fancy being part of our team for next year, get in touch!

Back in Business

For most Pipe Bands, the prospect of the Annual General Meeting is daunting. The previous season is picked apart with forensic intensity. Drummers point accusingly at pipers and pipers wag a collective finger in the direction of the bass section.

Not so at Gilnahirk.

The last year has seen so many positive developments for the Band that the AGM seemed like a great opportunity to simply draw breath and take stock. As a result, the Chairman Stephen Jackson looked out across a sea of smiling faces as he opened the best-attended meeting in many years.

The drier parts of the evening flew past. It was no great surprise to see that Pipe Major Ricky Newell and Leading Drummer Stephen Hoy were returned to office unopposed. The Band owes a great deal to their exceptional leadership and accomplished musicianship. The project of returning the Band to winning ways has had a solid start this year, but work remains to be done!

Attendance at practice has improved massively and the influx of new members has meant the hall has been well filled throughout the year - although there is always room for more!

Of course, a central part of the Meeting was to look over the events of the year. The Band started 2013 with a Burns Night - the first ever to be held in Gilnahirk. It is fair to say that it was a stunning success - so much so, that the locals have been anxiously requesting that it should be an annual event. Next year's Burns Supper will be held on 1st February 2014 - so save the date!

Aside from a busy programme of community events, concerts and contests, the biggest change of the year was to the Band's image - the change to the MacDuff tartan. It is fair to say that the new look has met with universal acclaim. The Band continues to have a very individual style, but now a more contemporary one too. It would be remiss not to mention the massive contribution made to the uniform change project by our tireless bass drummer, Michael Harrison, and we should also record gratitude to our sponsor - Morrow Contracts.

The results this year were something of a mixed bag - but the Band recognises that this was a year for rebuilding. Towards the end of the year results were starting to improve and the clear intention was stated by the Pipe Major to make it out into the arena for the start of the new season. Not only that, but the Band intends to travel to the World Championships as well as our new "local" major - the United Kingdom Championships in Belfast.

Business concluded, the meeting adjourned to the kitchen for a hearty supper - with thanks to Betty and Jessie. A great deal later, members finally started to drift off to their homes!

North West Championships 2013, Portrush

The contest in Portrush is always the subject of mixed emotions. In recent years, it has tended to be the close of the local contest season and, if the weather is good, it serves as a nice conclusion with a well attended parade of the town rounding off the day. However, it also signals the effective start of the Winter's practice and the hard work to come before we do it all again next year. 

Drawn to play towards the end of the 17 competitors in our grade, it was still necessary to get up to the Port nice and early to secure a parking space. A usual, the town was busy - and the Bank Holiday weekend probably exacerbated the transport issues. Nevertheless, Band members arrived on time and Lansdowne Crescent was soon alive with the sound of the pipes. The Band was playing for the first time with new pipe chanters, so a little tuning refinement had to be done before hitting the arena. Of course, none of this got in the way of a sneaky ice cream...
The weather stayed fine, if a little cold, for our run and a solid performance was delivered. Then it was time to sit back and enjoy the rest of the Grades before the finale. 
There was a brief shower before the bands all paraded in for the results, but the relative sunshine returned and Gilnahirk strode proudly on. Although the Band narrowly missed out on the prizes, the drummers were delighted to place second, just behind the corps which has been winning all season. This augers well for next season - with a strong off-season we would really hope to be challenging for honours in 2014. 

Portrush wouldn't be Portrush without the parade of the town and this year's effort was very well attended. As usual, it was slow progress down the main street, with crowds 5 or 6 deep in places. Gilnahirk received a very positive reception - it was just a pity we didn't have a trophy to carry down the street!
All in all, 2013 has been a great year for the Band. The addition of Pipe Major Newell has reinvigorated the Band and along with Leading Drummer Stephen Hoy, he has fashioned a better sound and a higher standard of playing. Other new players have boosted both the pipe corps and the drummers and the social side of the Band has never been stronger. We had our highly successful Burns Night earlier in the year and have plans for other events to raise funds for equipment. We have learner classes for both pipers and drummers with and eye on the future for the Band and we have also been approached by some more mature players who want to join the team for next season. Gilnahirk certainly has further to go in the rebuilding process, but firm foundations have been laid this year and we would be delighted to hear from anyone else who wants to come and be a part of it. Contact us on or follow us on Facebook if you want to know more - see you in the practice hall!

Ulster Championships 2013, Newtownards

After the unusually late playing time in Bangor, it was back to normal with Newtownards for the Ulster Championships. The Band was set to play shortly after 11am which meant a 9am rendezvous at Londonderry Park. Thankfully, Ards is just a short jaunt for most of the players, so it wasn't too early a start.

Once again, the Band was pleased to have a few additional players in the ranks, although some late tuning issues meant that no everyone made it to the line. Notwithstanding those problems, Gilnahirk strode to the line sounding and looking well and put in a creditable performance.

In common with every outing this year, Band members were frequently stopped during the course of the day to be complimented on the new MacDuff tartan kilts and the new look generally. It is gratifying to hear that the general public has taken so well to the change. Having worn the Muted Lochaber for so long, there was always a risk that people would react negatively - but we need not have worried!

The Ulster Championships is always a well attended affair and even some slightly inclement weather couldn't dampen enthusiasm on the day. In terms of results, the Band once again missed out on the prizes but we are continuing to improve and see this season as one in which to make progress ahead of a more concerted charge over the Winter and into 2014.

Rounding off the day in some style, the Band was crowned Grade 4B Ulster Marching & Deportment champions - it's nice to get recognition for the uniforms and for our drill in the arena - we would just love to add a few more playing prizes to the trophy cabinet!

The Band will not be playing in the World Championships in Glasgow this year, so the next outing will be the last of the season - in Portrush on 24th August. Why not come and say hello?

North Down Championships 2013, Bangor

Much closer to home than the last couple of contests, Bangor was the venue for the first contest in the second half of the season, after the Twelfth break.

The Band was there bright and early to get ready for what was actually a more civilised playing time than we have been used to of late - for a change the lower grade bands had been permitted a lie-in and we were due to hit the grass after lunchtime!

Although the forecast had been mixed, the rain held off for a large part of the day and the Band played in pleasant sunshine. The membership of the pipe corps had been boosted over the last few weeks and Pipe Major Newell was able to field a contingent of nine. The bigger sound certainly seemed to go down well with the crowd and it was a great fillip to the Band to have the increased numbers.

The addition of players to the Band perhaps led to a few technical issues with the performance, but all in all it was a solid showing for a Band which continues to improve with every outing.

Sadly, the weather let us down at the end of the day and the Band got quite a soaking whilst walking on to the Finale, but it was still great to get a rousing welcome from the North Down crowd.

Faithful members, George and Jessie had brought their camper van (and Bonnie the Dog) to Bangor, so the Band was also treated to a fantastic spread they had laid on with help from Betty. We even attracted a few guests to sample the treats on display - that's one way to bring new players on board!

The crowd on the say had been enhanced by the presence of competitors from the World Police & Fire Games - the Aurora swimming pool was being used as a venue. We are grateful to John Stoffer of the Dutch swimming team who took the photo we have used at the top of this post.

Next up will be the Ulster Championships - which are again close to home in Newtownards - onwards and upwards!

Uniform Dedication Service 2013

The last 12 months or so have been months which have seen massive changes within Gilnahirk Pipe Band. Firstly, we have welcomed to our ranks quite a number of new players - most notably our inspirational Pipe Major, Ricky Newell. Ricky has been joined at the helm of the Band by the returning Stephen Hoy as Leading Drummer, giving the Band a formidable team to take it from strength to strength.

As the rebuilding of the playing side of the Band has got underway, it only made sense to look at some of the other aspects of the outfit and consider some updates.

Gilnahirk has for around thirty years worn the Muted Lochaber tartan, initially pairing it with a green tweed jacket and latterly (about 15 years ago!) changing to a khaki number.

The look, which has served the Band well over the years, was starting to look distinctly dated and so the decision was taken to attempt to purchase new kilts and jackets. Most bands these days play (weather permitting) in waistcoats, so the shopping list got longer!

Funding an almost complete change in uniform was never going to be easy, but with a generous donation from Morrow Contracts and a programme of fundraising, the cash was gathered to allow the Band to start contemplating an order....

The next question was what tartan to go for.

As the Band had for so long been associated with Muted Lochaber, it was decided to make a radical departure and eventually the MacDuff tartan was settled upon. The tartan is predominantly red, with green, blue and black - completely different from the old kilt. A further decision had to be taken on how to pleat the kilt - and the most modern-looking variant was selected. This gives the kilt a radically different appearance from the rear, picking out the blues, making it look almost purple - a truly striking effect.

Combining the new kilt with black jackets and waistcoats, that only left the tie to be selected.

The whole uniform-change project was ably guided by the Band's bass drummer Michael Harrison, so it was only fitting that he should be the man who also designed and ordered the ties - and then the new look was complete!

The Band was delighted when Gilnahirk Presbyterian Church agreed to host a Service to dedicate the new uniforms and so we met on 23 June to parade to the Church from the Hall.

The service was conducted with great thought by Rev Stephen Moore and Band members took part with Carson Tate treating the congregation to the playing of several hymns, Stephen Jackson playing with the organ in a rendition of Highland Cathedral, and Stephen again giving a word of thanks to the Church and to our other supporters and friends.

After the service, the Church (and particularly the ladies of the congregation)  put on a supper which was very welcome and extremely well-attended.

As a token of thanks, Band ties were presented to Rev Moore and to Graham Cooper, the Band's long-serving President. Both gents have promised to wear them regularly!

The Chairman also presented Audrey Smallwood, a great friend of the Band (and one of the ladies behind the supper!) with a bouquet of flowers to mark our appreciation.

All in all, it was a great night and a fitting way to mark the close ties between the Band and the Church. Judging by the kind remarks of all present, the uniforms certainly met with approval - let's hope they can also usher us back to winning ways!