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Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

Killeshin Pipe Band

Killeshin Pipe Band c.1960's
I am almost sure that the boy on the front row left wearing glasses is John Payne. Regards Margaret (Ayres)

We would like to know the names of the rest of the band members in this photo;

Anyone who can put names to the faces pleas email me at

'Time marches on but Killeshin band is still going strong'

The following article appeared in the Carlow Nationalist on Wednesday, September 15, 2004

The Killeshin Pipe Band was formed 40 years ago because another band, scheduled to lead out the May sodality procession, failed to turn up.

Every year, for as long as locals can remember, there have been sodality processions on the first Sunday after May 3 from Graiguecullen to Killeshin.

It cannot be recalled what band was due to play in 1964, but bands that were blamed included the Swan, Ballylinan and Doonane, all now defunct.

According to 74-year-old tenor drummer Johnny Kealy, who had played with the Swan pipe band in 1961 and is now playing with Killeshin, “there was near murder after May Sunday when the band didn’t appear. I can’t say for sure which band it was.”

A parish meeting was called for May 28, 1964. By all accounts, the hall below the old church was packed with people, eager to ensure the area would never be left without a band again on May Sunday.

A committee was formed to organise the formation of a pipe band in the parish. Those who sat on the first committee were: chairman Reverend Father Edward Matthews, vice-chairman Liam Bolton, secretary Mick Hennessy, treasurer Martin Doran. Committee members: Johnny McEvoy, Jack Shiels, Michael Kelly, Jimmy Dunne, Bill Dunne, Martin Whelan, Liam Brennan, Jimmy Wade, Joe Kehoe, Seamus Hearns and Michael Rice.

The first job was to find someone capable of teaching pipes and drums to the eager parishioners.

“There was a lot of music in the Dunnes. They had played with Carlow bands. They were the only ones at the time that had any proper involvement with bands,” remarked Johnny Kealy.

The Dunnes were duly called upon to impart their knowledge.

The next course of action was to raise the money for the instruments. A house-to-house collection took place the following month. Every home in the parish was prevailed upon to assist. Contributions averaged £1 per house, with the occasional one donating double that. Poorer families gave 2/6d. When it was totted up, the grand total was £88-13s-3d. Fortnightly dances were held in the old school and the total raised from these was £318.

With the funding in place, the next task was the acquisition of uniforms and instruments. They acquired second-hand uniforms from Arklow at a total cost of £63, second-hand instruments costing £40 and one new tenor drum for the princely sum of £22-6s-0.

By May the following year, the Killeshin Pipe Band was ready to go and, indeed, their first outing was to lead that year’s sodality procession.

Two Rathvilly men had a huge impact on the band in the early stages. They were brothers Paddy and Peter O’Neill. According to pipe major Michael Ryan, “they were the first to bring good piping and drumming. They had played with the Castledermot band and were experienced in competitions.”

Ten-years later, the second-hand uniforms had become somewhat frayed and a new look was called for. “Someone knew someone inside the guards,” said Michael Ryan. So Garda tunics, minus the badges and buttons, were obtained. To enhance their appearance they had to stitch on braiding. “There was a lot of work in them. Most guards were very big men back then,” said Michael.

During the first ten years, the band had also played at the Stradbally Steam Rally, which also celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.

1970 was a great year for Ireland when Dana won the Eurovision song contest. It was to prove to be the biggest event for the band as well. Dana was due to perform in the Ritz Ballroom in Carlow town shortly after her win. The band was booked to pipe her into town. Johnny Kealy recalls Dana, “singing to the crowd from the top window of the Old Town Hall”.

The band was also called upon to perform for politicians. During his visit to Kilkenny they were asked to play for Eamon de Valera at an election rally. “Those things came through the local Fianna Fáil people,” said Johnny.

Pipe major Ryan said: “We played at everything you could think of. Political things were very popular back then. All the politicians wanted was a bit of noise to let people know they were in town.”

Their third change of uniform came in 1982.

It took 22 years for the members to decide to take on other bands in competition. In preparation for competitions, the band had to learn marching drills. This was achieved, said Michael “by marching up and down the road and over the hill. The practice base was underneath the chapel. The pipers were downstairs, drummers upstairs.”

The first competition they attended was in Rathcoole, Dublin in April 1986. According to the chairperson of the present day committee and pipe sergeant Ger Dunne they were “scalded”.

But in the next competition held in Kilkenny, they won their grade. Indeed they won their grades in a number of competitions after that until, finally, they achieved the ‘champions of champions’ award.

The band took a huge body blow in 1987 when their pipe major, Tony Burke, upped sticks and moved to Britain. “He had been a huge influence on the band. His daughter Lisa, who went to the local school here, now presents the weather on Sky television,” said Michael Ryan.

Tony Burke was the goal-keeper on the All-Ireland minor team that was defeated by Cork in 1966.

In 1992, the band was contacted by music promoter JC Pomery asking could they perform in France. All expenses were being offered. They jumped at the offer. For 28 days the band played all over France. They now refer to the experience as their ‘Tour de France’.

The following year they returned to France and performed on the circuit again. “There was a lot of wine flowing,” said Ger Dunne.

For the past 33-years the band has held its annual cabaret on New Year’s Eve in Behan’s of the Grove. An annual indoor auction is also held to raise funds every October bank holiday weekend in the community hall. Each year, the band holds field days and also takes part in the May Sunday three-day festival and holds an annual flag day around Carlow town.

Possibly the proudest moment in the long history of the band was when it led the Laois Association in New York in the St Patrick’s Day Parade. The band has also led Laois contingents through the streets of London and Birmingham on the national saint’s day. The Killeshin Pipe Band will again be in Birmingham next year for the parade.

Pipe Major Michael Ryan said: “Without the support of the parish there would be no band. We’ve got a lot of support over the years and also huge support from the Glenside where we hold regular functions.”

Present day officers and committee are: President Fr John Fingleton, chairman Ger Dunne, vice-chairman Liam Brennan (founding member), secretary Carmel Ryan, treasurer Seamus Hearns, pipe major Michael Ryan. Committee Johnny Kealy, Tom O’Regan, Peter Ryan, Michael Ryan, Pat Brennan (Ballylinan), Tess Faulkner (Rathvilly), Phil Gaffney, Dora Fennell.

The band’s celebrations to mark their 40th year will be held on Saturday, October 2. Proceedings begin at 7pm with Mass in Killeshin Church followed by a dinner dance in the Glenside. Special invitations have been issued to 88 former members to join in the celebrations. Tickets are available from Ger Dunne at 059 91 41943, Carmel Ryan at 087 940 3623 or Michael Ryan at 059 91 47807.

The current band members are: Drum major Denis Ryan, pipe major Michael Ryan, pipe sergeant Ger Dunne, pipers Michelle Ryan, Fiona, Sinead, Padraic Brennan and their father Pat Brennan (Ballylinan), Carol Faulkner, Laura Brennan, Mary Faulkner, Jane Dunne and Joe Dempsey. Base drummer is Tom O’Regan. On side drums are Hugh Connaghan, Damien Whelan, Mary Hutton and Padraic Dunne. Tenor drummers are Johnny Kealy, Peter Ryan and Michael Ryan.

Trainee members are Kevin Brennan, Amanda Brennan, Joan Faulkner, Eoin Geary and Sarah Geary.

The band practices every Tuesday and Friday nights in the community hall from 7.30pm to 9.30pm.

“The band is bigger than anyone. It’s being going for the past 40 years and is very much part of the parish. I hope it continues for another 40 years,” said the Chairman Ger Dunne.

Source: Carlow Nationalist - Thomas Crosbie Holdings, Ireland, 2006.

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