Swords Castle tuning up for Leinster Pipe Band Championships
Swords Castle plays host to the Leinster Pipe Band Championships this May bank holiday weekend, which will see bands from around the country and Fingal pipe and march their way through the ancient castle grounds.
The first outdoor pipe band competition of the season, the event, held by the Irish Pipe Band Association in conjunction with Fingal County Council, runs from the beginning of May, leading up to the World Pipe Band Championships in Glasgow next August.
Pipe bands from all parts of Ireland will compete in this year's championships, with Black Raven Pipe Band from Lusk, one of North County Dublin's leading pipe bands, set to lead the fray for Fingal with their highly skilled troupe.
Two judges, one piping, one drumming, assess the pipe bands according to grade, who are then given an assessment of their performance.
Organiser Maureen Gaffney from Lusk explains what the event is all about: 'What we're trying to do with this competition is to get the young bands out that weekend in May, because if we don't get them out for the first competition, they lose interest.
'In terms of the Republic of Ireland, there's really only four competitions for the year, so if you don't get the kids out at the beginning and get the momentum going, you lose them.
'If we do get them in, we get to regenerate the likes of St. Maur's Pipe Band in Rush and Malahide Pipe Band, but at this point in time, North County Dublin would be one of the quieter areas.'
Maureen explains that most children getting involved in pipe bands do so from an early age, with her own daughter first joining a band at eight years of age. Drummers, she says, can join a band from as young as age seven, whereas pipers tend to be older, as 'they're physically too young for blowing.'
Black Raven Pipe Band, who recently played at the Easter celebrations with the Old IRA Commemorative Society, took part in the championships last year, and this year are hoping to bring home first prize for Fingal.
While other pipe bands in the county will not be taking part in this year's competition, both St. Maur's Pipe Band and Malahide Pipe Band have taken part in St. Patrick's Day parades, and hope to compete in future championships.
Maureen says: 'Black Raven Pipe Band held last year's championships, but it actually got too big for Lusk, which meant a road closure order to allow for parking, so it just wasn't feasible. So the Leinster branch of The Irish Pipe Band Association took over for this year's event.
'When we looked at what's around the area, Swords Castle was not being utilised, it's in the centre of Swords, spectators can go up to the Pavillions or any of the shops around, and there's enough pubs around locally to feed people.
'There's parking there too, so it's actually a great spot for us, and we can put a lot of bands into that area. Of all the facilities that are around, that's probably the most suitable for us.'
Bands arrive early, Maureen says, as the pipes have to be warmed up before they can be played. The championships itself begins at 1pm, with some of the pipers warming up their pipes from around 11am.
She says: 'Once they come into the castle grounds, they have a final tuning area. Because the pipes are very temperamental instruments, they pick up extra moisture and extra heat.
'Because it's inside the castle walls and it's an enclosed area, the temperature is actually higher, so the pipers come in before they play into the tuning area and then they come in to play in the arena.'
Following the judges' decision after the performances, councillor Cathal Boland will present a cup to the winning pipe band, joined by a number of other local councillors.
To mark the end of the event, the winning pipe band marches to the tune of 'The Battle's O'er' and salute 'The Chieftan', which on this occasion will be theMayor of Fingal, Cllr Anthony Lavin,
The Leinster Pipe Band Championships takes place at Swords Castle on Saturday May 4 at 1pm.