Hacketstown Brass Band
Written by Patrick M. Byrne
- Hacketstown Brass Band (Mr. O
'Connor in centre with bowler hat)
On a fine sunny Sunday morning in early Jane
1875 a cavalcade of horse drawn open carriages, men on horseback and
horse-drawn carts passed through the still sleeping village of
Hacketstown shortly after first light and were observed by five or six
hardy locals who were up and about at that hour.
Two of the carriages contained what looked like
piles of shining gold treasure. but were in fact the shining
instruments and drums of the Tullow Brass Band who were on their way
to Glendalough for a day of music and marching in the national
interest. That evening as the
Angelus was ringing in Hacketstown the band on their way back were
coming in through Rathnafishogue and they arrived on the square in the
village around 6.20 p.m. to be greeted by a crowd of excited and
locals and their Priest, Rev. Fr. Delaney and of course it was
suggested that maybe the band would like to play a few national airs,
which they did; it is said that in fact they played for about two
hours and aroused great interest and were loudly cheered by the local
After the Tullow men had left for home, and
before the crowd had moved away, Rev. Fr. Delaney took the opportunity
to address the assembly now standing before him in high spirits; he
spoke for about ten minutes and at the end of the speech he put to
them the question, "Should we try to form a Brass Band of our own here
in Hacketstown?" and some of the people shouted back, "God bless you,
Father, you're the man for the job" and all those assembled approved
of the suggestion.
At all Masses on the following Sunday Rev. Fr.
Delaney announced that he was calling a meeting to discuss the
formation of a Brass Band and he invited all those interested to come
along and air their views on the subject, and it was said that he also
invited the ladies to come along and give their opinion as well. There
is no record of where this meeting was held, but we know that approval
was given and a committee was formed to oversee the raising of funds
for the project.
The committee members were as follows: Rev. Fr.
Delaney, Pierce Butler, Edward McDonald, Edward Kealy, Nicholas
O'Toole and last but not least was the only female member, Mrs.
The committee had to decide how to extract
money from the hard pressed locals so that the musical instruments and
drums could be purchased in Dublin. They decided to try the simplest
method of getting money quickly and that was to hold a local
collection. This collection was held over a four week period and they
collected the mighty sum for those days of £155 - 10 - 3 ½. It was
made up of donations of £5 -0 -0 from a few local farmers and
businessmen, and the shillings and pence of the local workmen, right
down to the old man who gave a halfpenny.
The brass instruments were now purchased. They
arrived in Hacketstown towards the end of August 1875 and 15 trainee
bandsmen were soon practising three nights a week, as well as marching
practice every fine Sunday after Mass. They cut quite a dash, dressed
in green sashes and French-style green kepis (caps), as they paraded
round and round the village.
The names of the original fifteen bandsmen were as follows:
Dinny Kehoe, J. Carroll, Hugh Kenny, J. Byrne, Ed. Whelan, T. Shannon,
Jim Hutton, John Lyons, J. Kenny, T. Donnolly, Andy Kavanagh, Joe
Hutton, J. O'Brien, Mick Reilly and P. Kenny. The committee and band
members now decided that the band should have a name and after several
meetings to debate the issue they agreed to call it "The St. Laurence
O'Toole Brass Band" and the pennant that was carried in front of the
band was green and bore the initials "S.L.O.T.B.B." in gold
The band members were now giving very good
renditions of the many tunes they had learned and practised, and as
Autumn and Winter turned to Spring they would assemble on the village
square on fine Sunday evenings to entertain the local inhabitants, and
their playing was very much appreciated by all those who heard them.
It was round about this time that the letters of the pennant began to
attract the attention of the local characters and "Quare Fellas" who
of course put the letters together and they spelled SLOT. Now in the
local dialect of the time, e..g. a door was pronounced "dure," so SLOT
became "SLUT" and so they acquired the unfortunate nickname of the
"Hacketstown Sluts'" Brass Band. The nickname however was dropped
quite quickly after it was roundly condemned by the priest from the
altar on two successive Sundays, and it would only come to surface
occasionally when some of the local wideboys were mingling with the
crowd e.g. after Mass on Sundays.
The man from God knows where is now about to
enter the scene and he did so on a dull Sunday afternoon as the band
members were drawn up in front of the sundial on the village square
and about to perform their usual recital; this quaint looking
individual wearing a top hat, cravat and swallow-tailed coat, and
walking in his bare feet came strolling in the Baltinglass road with a
stick across his shoulder and a bundle on the end of it. He enquired
from some women he met in Bridge Lane if this was Hacketstown and was
there a newly formed brass band here. The women answered, "Yes" to
both questions and told him that the band was about to start playing
on the town square. His next question was "who was in charge of the
band?" and the women told him that when he got to the square he should
ask for Andy Kavanagh or John Lyons.
When he reached the town square the band was
already in full tune, so he kept his distance until they finished. He
then asked a man named Jack Disney would he be good enough to point
out John Lyons or Andy Kavanagh to him and so Jack Disney showed him
where Andy Kavanagh was standing. The stranger introduced himself to
both Andy Kavanagh and John Lyons and told them he was a bandmaster
and could read and compose music, that his name was O'Connor, and if
given a chance he could prove his worth in less than a month. John
Lyons asked him how he found out about the Hacketstown band and he
replied that a tramp ballad singer at Dunlavin Fair spoke about them.
John Lyons and Andy Kavanagh told Mr. O'Connor that they would discuss
the matter with their committee the following evening and they would
give him its decision on Tuesday.
On Monday evening the band committee met and
after a prolonged discussion they decided to give Mr. O'Connor a
chance to sharpen up the band by teaching the bandsmen how to read
music and to march in step. This was to be the start of an almost
twenty year association between Mr.
O'Connor and the St. Laurence O’'Toole Brass Band in Hacketstown.
It appears the band now went from strength to
strength and was in big demand in the surrounding towns and villages
and always accompanied by Mr. O'Connor in his bare feet and wearing
his trademark top hat and tails and carrying in his right hand his
The Bandmaster was always addressed as "Mr.
O'Connor" when people spoke to him personally, but when he was talked
about among themselves he was affectionately known as "Aould
O'Connor", and on fine Sundays after Mass when a large crowd would
have gathered and the priest had gone home some of the wide boys in
the crowd would shout out, "Where's Aould O'Connor today?" and their
friends would chant back, "He's off playing with the Sluts again" and
a ripple of laughter would move through the crowd. Now as everyone
knows there were always Go-Boys out for a laugh at somebody else's
expense, but by this stage Mr. O'Connor had become a well-respected
member of the local community on account of his work with the band.
The sundial was located on the square in
Hacketstown about two paces out from a narrow clay footpath that
passed in front of what is now the Pharmacy and it was here that the
band always formed up to play for the townspeople. Dinny Kehoe, the
big drummer, was the man that always ended up with his back to the
sundial and if the day was warm he would remove his cap and hang it up
(as he would say himself) on "Cromwell's Nose," which was of course
the brass shadow-casting device called a gnomon on the dial. Mr.
O'Connor would now take his place on top of a small wooden porter
barrel and give his instructions to the band, wave his baton and the
music would start to the loud cheering of the assembled crowd.
In every village and every town in any year or century you care to
pick you are sure to find a drunk looking for trouble and one night
after band practice such a man approached Mr. O'Connor and said, "What
brought you here to be the boss of the band, and you not knowing music
from slop water, and only I'm a decent man I'd tell you where to go."
Mr. O'Connor fixed him in his gaze and replied, "A decent man did you
say, sir? Why, in the short length of time that I have been here I
have quickly come to the conclusion that you, my good man, are as free
from decency as a frog is from feathers." Needless to say that drunk
never bothered him again. There were two Euphonium players in the band
and while one of them lived in the town, the other lived in the
country approximately 1¼
miles out. Now this man had no transport of any kind and so he went
everywhere on foot.
Each bandsman was responsible for his own
instrument and so they took them home with them after each session.
Our country friend was getting a bit fed up of carrying his euphonium
2½. miles to and from every event and so he devised a plan; he
resurrected an old rickety wooden wheelbarrow with a solid wooden
wheel and into this he placed an armfull of straw and on top of this,
in regal splendour, sat the euphonium, all ready for its journey into
town. Shortly afterwards the local cornerboys christened its owner
"Buglebarra" as he arrived at every band event, even if there were
dignitaries present, pushing the barrow containing his beloved
In 1880 the Parish Priest of the time was Rev.
Fr. Patrick McDonnell and he decided to put a clock in the church
tower and retire the sundial, and so he asked the band if they would
be willing to help him to raise some funds towards this worthy cause,
which they willingly did on numerous occasions. There is no record of
how much they collected for this project, but the word was that it
amounted to a tidy sum and the clock was installed in 1881. There was
an old man living in the town at the time and every time the new clock
struck the hour he would take off his hat and say, "God bless Fr.
McDonnell and the band, only for them we wouldn't know the night from
The band's Nationalistic attitude, choice of
music, and attire did not go down very well with a small number of
Church of Ireland people who had to pass by them on their way to
evening service and so we find the following: George Thomas Watson,
incumbent of Hacketstown, wrote a letter to the office of the Chief
Secretary of Ireland on April 22nd 1878, giving his address as "The
Glebe, Hacketstown." He complained that, "A band of persons dressed
with green scarves and green caps paraded the streets of the town
playing discordant music to the great annoyance of those who were on
their way to evening service." A police report signed by Constable
George Redding is attached to the file in the National Archives in
Dublin; this report stated that ten or twelve members of the band had
played in Main Street between 4 and 5 o'clock, then proceeded to a
moat at a distance of one mile. They caused no obstruction; they did
not go near the Church and no complaint had been made to the Police.
On Sunday September 28th 1879, Parnell visited
Hacketstown and after lunching with the Parish Priest Rev. Fr.
McDonnell he addressed the people in the Main Street. He was on his
way to a monster Land League meeting in Tullow. The Carlow Independent
on October 4th reported, "The Hacketstown Brass Band, headed by their
efficient committee, met Mr. Parnell a short distance outside the town
and after cheering lustily they played a very choice selection of
airs." Although not mentioned in this report, the band is said to have
led a procession of over 1,000 farmers to this monster meeting in
Tullow and became quite famous as a result.
January 28th 1881
Sixteen people were prosecuted at Hacketstown
Petty Sessions for "groaning" Colonel Dennis, a local magistrate, who
had been hearing a case in which Thomas Byrne was being charged with
taking forcible possession of a property from which he had been
evicted. The case against the sixteen people was adjourned for a month
and the Carlow Independent of January 29th reported, "a brass band,
which was surrounded by a large and enthusiastic crowd, played outside
the Parish Priest's house and the defendants were cheered, as were
also those who took part in the defence."
March 28th 1884
John Lyons of Ballykillane and Nicholas O'Toole
of Scotland, Hacketstown were re-elected to the Shillelagh Board of
Guardians and came home that night to a great celebration of victory
in Hacketstown. "The Brass Band followed by an immense crowd bearing
oil barrels marched through the streets playing National Airs."
(Nationalist, March 29th 1884)
Seven years now pass by before the band is
mentioned in the papers again and many of the older bandsmen have
retired and have been replaced by younger, fitter men, who are better
able for a day's marching.
July 2nd 1891
Parnell came to Hacketstown from Carlow,
campaigning for his candidate in the Carlow By-election, Mr. Kettle.
"Mr. Edward Harrington, M.P., and the local band received the Member
for Cork outside the town and a large assemblage accompanied the party
to the town square, where after an interval for luncheon, the meeting
was held." (Carlow Sentinel, July 4th 1891)
Somewhere between 1891 and 1895 a difference of
opinion occurred between the younger and older members of the band
with the result that the younger members and their supporters took
charge. However it only lasted about two years after that before they
disbanded. Mr. O'Connor had now lost the love of his life and they say
he left Hacketstown shortly afterwards, heartbroken, by the same road
he had first come in. I suppose we can imagine that he was hoping to
find another fledgling brass band on which he could lavish his
expertise. As he walked off into the sunset the band he loved and
spent so much of his time with was soon to be rapidly forgotten; he
himself is barely remembered in a rhyme composed by some local scribe
who put pen to paper and wrote the following:
- The Hacketstown Band
- Has got so grand
- They wouldn't come out to play;
- They sold their brass
- To buy a Jackass
- To draw Aould O'Connor away.
Source: Carloviana 2011
N0. 60. Pages 69