Sunday 22 July 2018

Seven decades of a proud New Ross tradition

The FCA pipe band has been there for the town's great moments, says David Looby

Celebrating 70 years back in October. Back: Pat Dalton, Dave Tormey, Greg Warren, John Bennett, Dick O’Neill, Paddy Murphy and Jack Ronan. Front: Jimmy Smith, Pat (Sue) Furlong, Martin Bradley, Billy Ronan, Paschal Bolger, Paul Connolly and John Ronan
Celebrating 70 years back in October. Back: Pat Dalton, Dave Tormey, Greg Warren, John Bennett, Dick O’Neill, Paddy Murphy and Jack Ronan. Front: Jimmy Smith, Pat (Sue) Furlong, Martin Bradley, Billy Ronan, Paschal Bolger, Paul Connolly and John Ronan
The band in 1958. Front: Billy Doyle, Tommy Kielthy, Jackie Tubritt and Pat O’Gorman. Back: Phil McGrath, Joe Cullen, Nicky Grace, Mick Cloney, Sam McDonald, Tom Bolger, Martin Bradley, Mick Elmes and Tommy Martin

The New Ross Forsán Cosónta Autiúl (FCA) Pipe Band is 70 years in existence this year, with one member proudly playing for 50 years.

It was 1947 when three ex-serving members of the Emergency old 10th Infintry BN Pipe Band, Capt J McDonnell, a pipe sergeant instructor, Tom Bolger (a drummer) and Paddy Burke, a piper formed FCA unit in New Ross, along with Jim Nowlan, Paddy Murphy, Paddy Aspel and Tommy and Jack Ryan.

The group held their first meeting in the YMCA Hall on John Street where they discussed the possibility of forming a pipe band in the FCA unit and the purchase of some band equipment. They managed to source some drums from a disbanded flute band in Tramore. They also sourced second hand pipes and drums from the Irish army.

With the help of Capt Andy Minihan and his little scut lorry, Paddy Murphy and Jim Nowlan set off for the Curragh military camp in Kildare to pick up the instruments which which were reputed to have been played by armed forces in Flanders. These pipes are still in use.

Most of the band members purchased their own instruments at the time, which is a practice carried out by current band members. One of the first big occasions for the band was in 1948, at a parade to celebrate the Declaration of the Republic of Ireland when a few pipers from the FCA Pipe Band took part in the ceremonies.

The band was not fully operational until 18 months after its formation. Its first major band outing was the centenary celebrations of the foundation of the CBS school in New Ross in 1949.

Paddy Burke was the first pipe major of the band. He resigned in 1948 due to ill health to be replaced by Jim Nowlan who gave a few years service. Jim was followed by Paddy Murphy who was pipe major for a couple of years, but remained on piping with the band for 47 years. Phil McGrath was next and he also gave a few years service.

The longest serving pipe major in the band's history was Martin Bradley at over 50 years service. Paschal Bolger gave over 40 years standing service to the band.

He was followed by present pipe major Dickie O'Neill who has given over 50 years loyal and dedicated service. Several pipe majors gave short service due to early retirement or emigration.

Phil Murphy was the first drum major. Sam McDonald took over the responsibility in 1953, serving for 25 years until 1978.

Pat O'Gorman, Victor Furness and Billy Murphy followed in his well timed footsteps. The present drum major is Terry Brennan who has held the position for many years. The FCA training centre in Maher's Yard continued to be the centre for band practices until a malicious arson attack gutted the building in 1974 when most of the pipe band equipment was destroyed.

The building was never replaced despite the New Ross Urban District Council and the Department of Defence agreeing a site in the FCA Centre. Successive governments failed to replace the building.

Subsequently the band trained in rented accommodation at various locations around New Ross town, including in the Masonic Hall on Priory Lane, the Delare Hotel on South Street until the FCA was discontinued in 2005. Band Secretary John Bennett said: 'I'm of the opinion we replaced the old O'Hanrahan Pipe Band which was based in the Irishtown and Maudlins. Some of the oldest family names were involved, many of their family names are still involved in the band to this day. Sadly the O'Hanrahan band was disbanded in the late 1930s or early 1940s.'

The band inherited their O'Hanrahan banner, a beautiful banner which was mounted in a glass case in its centre in Maher's Yard. The banner was hand embroidered by the women of the Maudlins ICA guild. It was frilled with gold braid with a green background, featured two crossed rifles and was completed with a hand painted portrait of Michael O'Hanrahan. Sadly it was destroyed in the fire of 1974 never to be replaced. Mr Bennett appealed to anyone reading this article who has an old photo taken in the hall with the glass case and banner in the background to contact him as the band could get it replaced with a replica.

Unemployment and emigration took a serious toll on many of the organisations and bands in New Ross in the 1950s and 1960s and 1970s and New Ross FCA Pipe Band was no different. 'We lost many a great piper and drummer and this is still happening to this day.'

Throughout its 70-year history the pipe band has always been proud of New Ross and of its FCA base. 'Our green and saffron uniforms have been singled out for admiration at various events in Ireland and abroad, Our pipers and drummers take part in the Easter Sunday commemorations in the parish church and at Stephen's Cemetery every Easter and at the Wexford and New Ross St Patrick's Day parades.'

'The band also gives a recital in Rowe Street Church in Wexford and participates in all local community events. We want to keep the tradition going for many years to come.'

The band helped commemorate the centenary of the Easter Rising, a year in which they also honoured the centenary of the execution of Michael O'Hanrahan, having previously done so on the 50th anniversary of his execution in 1966.

The band played a part in the 1798 bicentenary commemorations when Celtic crosses were erected all over County Wexford.

The pipe band was also kept busy performing at hurling and football matches on Sunday. As members of the Irish Pipe Band Association, the New Ross Pipe Band played for the first time in Dublin in Croke Park in October 1953.

Their marching and deportment earned the band members many favourable comments, so much so that two of the band members were chosen to join an All Ireland Piper Band the following year to play at the Celtic Festival in Brittany, France. Since then many groups of the FCA Pipe Band have travelled all over Europe and in 1985 the band lead the Irish Army Pilgrimage in Lourdes.

Over six days they gave recitals daily on the main podium in the square in front of the main basilica. They played in the local hospital and at various locations around Lourdes town.

The band also lead the daily procession to the Grotto. Another memorable band outing was President John F Kennedy's visit in 1963 and the visit of Senator Ted Kennedy the previous year. All band members were presented with sparrow tie pins which were handmade by John Finn and Martin Saddler of Mary Street for the occasion. Martin Bradley was one of the men presented with a sparow pin on the steps of the Royal Hotel by Ted Kennedy, the brother of the late president. 'The tie pin is a replica of the PT 109 torpedo boat which John F Kennedy was a commanding officer on during the Second World War. Martin played on the band in 1962 and again in 2013 at the JFK50 event, a record for the band,' Mr Bennett said.

Larry Murray of the 10th Infintry Battalion New Ross was the first to be issued with the sparow.

The band also played for President Eisenhower's ambassador to Ireland, Scott McLeod and for successive Irish Presidents and Irish army chiefs of staff. Another highlight was the recital with the Comoradh Concert in 1998 held in the parish church in New Ross with the combined military brass bands. 'We also played for Jean Kennedy Smith in 2008 and for Kennedy family members at the JFK50 event in June 2013.'

The band recently gave a recital in St Mary's Church and played in Wexford town for the 100th anniversary commemoration of the death of Major Willie Redmond. 'Over our 70-year history we have been part of many special civic, military, social, religious events all over the country.'

The band practices every Monday night in the Youth Centre, Nunnery Lane, New Ross under the baton of Piper Major Dickie O'Neill who has given over 50 years loyal service. New members are welcome to join what is a New Ross institution.

New Ross Standard