Gilnahirk Pipe Band

Formed 1919

North Down Pipe Band Championships, Bangor 2012

The Band took to the Grass on Saturday 21 July for the second time this season under blue skies in Bangor for the North Down Championships.

The weather was kind - the judges, less so.

Due to a couple of missing players, we took to the arena with seven pipers and four side drummers, along with one tenor drummer and, of course, the bass drummer.

However, for the first time in Gilnahirk's long history, we had a female bass player! Leanne joined the band this year and her first ever contest was in Newcastle just a few weeks ago. She is a tenor drummer but showed that she can turn her hand to the bass with considerable skill. Her panache in all aspects of the bass section should be no surprise to those in the know - her husband is none other than Greg, the All-Ireland Championship winning bass drummer from Quinn Memorial Pipe Band!

David Scott, the RSPBA Announcer, made special mention of Greg and Leanne, as the two bands paraded onto the arena together for the Finale.

In terms of the competition itself, the performance was one of two halves. A few jangling nerves meant that the first two tunes were a little unsettled, but once into our stride, the potential in the Band was plain to see - sadly, the judges simply refused to only take into account our second half efforts!

It's fair to say that the high point of the judging sheets was to be found on the Marching and Deportment report which confirmed our cleanliness as top class! They say it's next to Godliness...

Nevertheless, some wise heads in the watching crowd were impressed by the improvements in the Band and the first ever performance of one of our younger members, James Cartledge was another milestone for a Band looking to rebuild and improve with new players.

Next up will be the European Championships at Stormont in one week - plenty of practice between now and then!

Heart o' Down Championships, Newcastle 2012

Gilnahirk took to the grass for the first time in the 2012 season on Saturday past at Newcastle.

With the weather having been atrocious for the past few days, members had been urged to pack not only their capes, but also snorkelling gear and waders. As it turned out, the conditions were nowhere near as bad as had been predicted and there was only the faintest hint of Ulster mizzle in the air as the Band assembled to warm up.

Numbers were slightly down and we had anticipated a small band hitting the line but matters were made worse when veteran piper, Sam Kerr, was struck down with a bug on Friday night, depriving the Band of a reliable player and "sound man".

Despite the misfortunes, practice went pretty well outside the ring and Gilnahirk strode to the line at Noon - drawn behind Whitewater in a Grade of 14 competitors.

The performance perhaps reflected some of the jitters of the first competition of the year but the Band acquitted itself well and drew compliments from a number of friendly spectators - if only they had been judging!!

The rest of the day was plagued with frequent showers, some quite heavy - although the Contest had concluded by the time the worst of the weather hit Newcastle.

Congratulations are due to Leanne, James and Colin, all of whom made their competitive Gilnahirk débuts and performed with considerable aplomb.

There was another significant début on the day - our new logo, displayed with pride on the Bass Drum head. We will be posting an article later in the season, telling the story behind the design of the new image - every element is significant in the history and origins of the Band - look out for that.

In the meantime, we hope you all like it!

Our next outing should be in Bangor on the 21st July - and then the Europeans at Stormont. You can keep up to date with how the practices are going (along with other Band related nonsense) on Facebook.

RSPBA Tonal Balance Workshop

The Band was proud to be asked to host a workshop for local bands by the Northern Ireland Branch of the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association and the big event took place last night, 12th March.

The Branch has promoted a number of similar events across Northern Ireland and it was a well-thought out programme, ably fronted  by the indefatigable Winston Pollock (of Monkstown Mossley fame).

The Hall was well filled with both Gilnahirk players and a number of very welcome guests from local bands who had been invited along to share the evening.

The expertise bestowed on us came in the the form of two top-class players from the dizzying heights of Grade One. The pipers were treated to a master-class from David Chesney, who needs absolutely no introduction. He patiently worked with the players to improve sound from chanters and drones and answered every question asked of him, explaining every step he was taking so that the pipers should be able to replicate the process when left to their own devices.

The drummers were by no means left out. Their expert tutor was Neil Ussher of Ravara fame. Again, Neil was completely approachable and no query was too basic. He worked his magic with the drums and again took it slowly, explaining each step and illustrating his points by referencing his own experiences in the pipe band world.

The drummers were also treated to an old boy of Gilnahirk making an appearance. Graham Turner started his drumming career with Gilnahirk and went on to achieve huge success, perhaps most notably with Ballycoan. The benefit of having Graham along as well as Neil was plain to see.

A feature of the night was the great grace of the experts in sharing their own tips and tricks. There was a great sense of working together toward a common goal - a great sound.

After the gurus had worked their magic, the band was pulled back together to play a couple of tunes - and the difference was clear to all present. The balance of the band had improved immeasurably and several of the guests commented that they had not heard Gilnahirk produce such a great sound for many years.

After a cup of tea and the chance for some informal chat, the evening was rounded off with a Question and Answer session, which probably could have gone on all night! The questions ranged much wider than the issue of "tonal balance" and the topics included recruitment for lower grade bands, pitch and equipment choices. By 11.30pm, everyone started to realise that they had to go to work in the morning and the night was drawn to a close!

The Band would like to record formally its gratitude to the Branch for asking us to host this incredibly useful event. Winston, David and Neil gave generously of themselves and Gilnahirk will be a better band for the experience - we thank you all, gentlemen. The Branch has taken a bold step to work with bands to improve the general standard of play and sound - and they should be warmly congratulated for doing so. We certainly hope that this is not the last time that we will have the chance to stage such an event.


Burns Night 2012

The Band was delighted to be asked back for the third straight year to play at Willowfield Parish Church for their (couple of days late!) Burns Night.

The Willowfield Burns Night has become a fixture in the East Belfast cultural calendar and this year was as successful an event as ever. The Church was packed with enthusiastic souls who gleefully demolished the Haggis Neeps and Tatties which form the centrepiece of any good Burns Night.

Sadly, the Band was warming up when the vittels were being dished out - but the playing was its own reward tonight. Gilnahirk took the stage with 8 pipers, 5 side drummers, 2 tenor drummers and the bass. We had début performances from Leanne on the Tenor and Colin on the Pipes. Along with the rest of the team, they played brilliantly and we hope that they will be fixtures on the Gilnahirk Roster for many years to come!

The Band will now be concentrating on the Contest sets for the 2012 season - but it's not too late to come and join us! If you fancy giving it a go, contact us by email on or through Facebook.

Video footage of the night is live on YouTube but here is a taster....

Happy New Year - and Roll on 2012!

The Band would like to wish all our friends and supporters a very Happy New Year - and we hope that you all had a great Christmas break.

2011 was a good year for Gilnahirk, although not without its challenges. The Band made it back to the competition arena and we have a firm foundation on which to build for next year. Indeed, we should have a few exciting developments to announce over the coming months and hope that you will all keep checking back with us here or on Facebook for news.

Provided that we can all still fit into our kilts after the Christmas indulgence, the next outing for the Band will be at the Willowfield Parish Church Burns Night, which is to be held in the Church on My Lady's Road on Friday 27 January 2012. This is always a very well attended and enjoyable event - so why not come along and see us?

As the Band continues to build, we are still on the lookout for new members. If you already follow us on Facebook, you may have noticed that a few people have contacted us through there with enquiries about joining and/or learning. That is just one of the ways to get in touch - if you want to make direct contact, just drop us a line over there or email us at join[AT] The more the merrier!

Annual General Meeting 2011

The Band held its Annual General Meeting for 2011 on Monday 17 October. There was a strong turnout, reflecting the injection of vigour provided by the return to competition in the 2010-11 season.

Members and friends were welcomed by the Chairman, Stephen Jackson, and business was conducted in a friendly and enthusiastic manner. The Band would like to record its thanks to friend and bass-section guru, Greg McClean, who assisted ably with the election of officers.

The Pipe Major, Mervyn Mayes, was re-elected and seems undaunted by the task of steering the Band back up through the placings at next year's competitions!

As usual, discussions were lively and (mostly!) well-informed. Plans for next year include some revisions to the uniform and we should also be seeing some interesting developments in terms of the "branding" of the Band which should give us a whole new look!

One of the most positive features of the past year or so has been the injection of new blood into the Band. Even at the AGM itself, new members were being welcomed into the ranks - a trend which we would be delighted to see continue. If you fancy learning or re-igniting your passion for the pipes or drums, contact us on Facebook, Twitter, or drop us an email to

Although the meeting itself is always enjoyable - it would be easy to be suspicious that the attendance is more because of the cup of tea afterwards - at least it is nice to see the Chairman mucking in!

Gilnahirk Presbyterian Church Autumn Fair

The Band was again pleased to be asked to play at the Church Autumn Fair. Somehow, it is always more gratifying to be asked back to an event you have played at before - it provides some assurance that the playing last time round was reasonable enough!

Thankfully, as the Band was playing at the opening of the Fair, the weather stayed fair until the patrons had been safely piped through the doors of the Hall - and the crowd had been in appreciative form as they lined up in anticipation of snatching a few bargains.

Although the Band was missing a few players, the turnout was good and it was great to see Piper James finally kitted out in full uniform and playing well. Not to be outdone, the drummers were pleased to welcome another James (Hughes) into the ranks for his first outing. Uniform shortages meant that he was bedecked in the uniform of Ballygowan Band - but we'll have that sorted out well in advance of the season starting.

We had a few approaches from people interested in joining and will hopefully see a few of them at practices over the coming weeks.

The Band Annual General Meeting is this Monday (17th October) and then it will be down to regular Monday night practices through the Winter. If you fancy joining us, why not drop a line to ?

Au Revoir Jérémy...

The 2010-2011 season was an eventful one for the Band. Along with the engagements we have become accustomed to over past years, we made it back on to the contest stage for the first time in several years. Although the results could undoubtedly have been better, appetites have been whetted and we hope to make more regular appearances next year.

The re-emergence of Gilnahirk was greatly aided by those members who have joined over the past couple of years, including Jérémy who came to Gilnahirk all the way from Canada!

We would love to say that the lure of the Band is now sufficient to draw international players from overseas, but the truth of it is that Jérémy was a student at The Queen's University who found that his musical talent needed an outlet! Jérémy had played with a Band in his home country and soon became an invaluable and reliable member of the Gilnahirk piping corps.

Sadly, Jérémy's university course concluded this year and that has brought to an end his sojourn in Northern Ireland. The Band recorded its gratitude to him with a small presentation at one of his last practices and also took the opportunity for a cup of coffee together and a few sticky buns!

We all have fond memories of Jérémy's time with the Band and would be delighted to welcome him back in the future, should his travels bring him back in this direction. In the meantime, we would just like to record our thanks and best wishes to Jérémy as he returns to Canada - we hope to see you again soon. For now - Au Revoir!

North West Pipe Band Championships 2011

Last Saturday saw Gilnahirk's 2011 competitive season draw to a close.

The weather forecast thankfully proved pessimistic when the bands gathered in blustery sunshine at Portrush for the domestic curtain call. Unfortunately, the newly crowned Grade One World Champions, Field Marshal Montgomery decided to give the local scene a miss, but there was still plenty of colour and music to attract and entertain the large crowds.

Indeed, lowly Gilnahirk played to what was undoubtedly the band's largest crowd of the season, packed round the Grade 4B arena.

The performance itself was perhaps a little nervous but pipers and drummers were well pleased with the third time back in the competition arena after our very long "rest". Once again, the judges were not sufficiently impressed to have the Band's name called amongst the prize winners, but the sheets were constructive and complimentary about the return of Gilnahirk to competition.

Sadly, a number of players were missing from the ranks due to illness and other commitments and that difficulty was exacerbated by others having to head for home or work immediately after playing. Nevertheless, the joined with our friends in Ballydonaghy Pipe Band to walk on to the Finale - and for a very enjoyable (and entertaining) parade of the town. The Band would like to thank Ballydonaghy for "taking us in" - it seemed the experience was enjoyed by us all.

Once again, Gilnahirk would like to thank supporters and friends for the warm welcome back this year. We will be taking a very short break now, but practices will recommence at the start of October. Our first engagement is the Gilnahirk Presbyterian Church Autumn Fair in mid-October - of which more later!

If the skirl of the pipes has attracted you over this past season, there is no better time to start learning than right now - why not contact us on and we can take you through the process from novice to seasoned pro?

European Pipe Band Championships 2011

After the Band's long lay off and re-emergence in Bangor last week, there was to be no suggestion of any time off for Gilnahirk with the European Pipe Band Championships taking place at Stormont Estate in Belfast today. This contest is one of the five "Majors" which decide the destination of the RSPBA Champion of Champions at the end of each competition season. Belfast has secured the rights to host the European Championships for three years and today was the second in the series.

Thankfully, the weather forecast proved accurate - or possibly even a little pessimistic. There was no sign of the predicted afternoon shower and the arena was bathed in golden sunshine for almost the entire event. The crowds seemed improved on last year and the only thing drawing complaint from the public seemed to be the enormous prices being charged for burgers and other refreshments!

The Band was drawn to play "lucky" thirteenth in Grade 4B and had a slightly more assured run than last week. A good solid couple of hours practice before entering the ring seemed to settle a few nerves and the positive crowd response was again gratifying. Gilnahirk has still to enjoy the sensation of being called up for a prize this season, but the progress which is being made is reward in itself at this point and sets out a good stall for the end of the summer and establishes a firm foundation on which to build next year.

Once again, the Band was delighted to hear from a lot of supporters (including a few "big names" from the Grade One Bands!) who were pleased to see us out on the grass again. We certainly hope that we can repay the compliments and good wishes with a little silverware.

In terms of the results from the Grade One arena, Gilnahirk would like to extend congratulations to the all-conquering Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band which continues to steam-roller its way through the 2011 season. Thus far, FMMPB has won every one of the Majors competed for and must surely be favourite for the World Championships in Glasgow in a couple of weeks. Well done and keep it up, FM!