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Soon-to-be-homeless Wexford band wins major music competition against all the odds

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The HFC Concert Band performing in the 41st South of Ireland Band Championships in Clonakilty, under conductor Alan Mahon.

The HFC Concert Band performing in the 41st South of Ireland Band Championships in Clonakilty, under conductor Alan Mahon.

HFC Band secretary Gavin Blake (left) and band member Adam Wickham (right) receive the Dan Ladan Perpetual Cup from Gerald O’Driscoll, chairman of the South of Ireland Band Championships. Photo by George Maguire.

HFC Band secretary Gavin Blake (left) and band member Adam Wickham (right) receive the Dan Ladan Perpetual Cup from Gerald O’Driscoll, chairman of the South of Ireland Band Championships. Photo by George Maguire.

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The HFC Concert Band performing in the 41st South of Ireland Band Championships in Clonakilty, under conductor Alan Mahon.

wexfordpeople

A Wexford band has won first prize in the South of Ireland Band Championships against all the odds – the HFC Concert Band took the top award at the weekend despite currently facing eviction from its rehearsal premises, Covid putting a few key members out of action and not having performed in a competition in over 15 years.

According to chairman Eoin O' Neill, the trip to Clonakility, County Cork for the contest last Saturday was organised primarily as an enjoyable day out for the members and the band had no expectations whatsoever of winning.

In fact, due to the bus schedule, they had to depart before the results were announced, leaving two members who had their own transport, Adam Wickham and Gavin Blake (secretary), to stay on for the announcement, and were on their way home when they heard the news.

“This was our first trip away in years.. It was the band’s first entry into a competition for over 15 years and there were no great expectations. It was a good excuse to enjoy the sights of the West Cork town and hear some bands at the same time”, said Eoin.

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The HFC was one of 11 bands in the intermediate category for concert and brass bands. “We were the 7th band to perform and the last before the lunch break. After our lunch, we were programmed to give a recital in Clonakilty town at 2pm. It was all very relaxed and great fun and we performed to a very appreciative audience. After the recital, the band members wander around enjoying the festival”.

On the way home to Wexford, there was a great cheer on the bus when Gavin texted Eoin to say the band had won the Best Woodwind category and five minutes later, when Gavin announced that they had won the competition, everyone went wild with excitement.

Two days before the competition, it looked like all was lost when three members had to pull out due to Covid. “It put us in a dilemma. Do we change the music at short notice or continue playing what we had rehearsed for so long. We opted for the latter, with some players having extra notes to add in and another having to read a different part.”, said musical director Alan Mahon, who was conducting the band in competition for the first time.

"One player even had to swap instruments for one of the pieces. Everyone put in a great effort to give a decent performance. None of us knew or expected that it would end up being a winning performance”, he said.

 “It was my first time conducting the band in competition so it was a great honour for me when they  took top prize.  What made it more satisfying was the fact that we competed against ten other bands from around the country”, said Alan.

The celebration will be short-lived though as the band may soon have to vacate their longstanding rehearsal venue in Dún Mhuire Theatre which closed down due to mounting debts and  is being taken over by Wexford County Council for the re-development of South Main Street.

"Even though we are enjoying this success, we are actively searching for a new premises. Finding a suitable rehearsal venue that can accommodate 50 players and their instruments is not easy", said the chairman.

"It also needs to be a place where we can lock the doors and securely leave our instruments and music stands. It is a real concern for us.”

“The band has enjoyed a great surge in interest over the last seven years with a full attendance each week. We never had so many members. It would be a shame for the band to go dormant, or worse, close altogether”, he said. Eoin who can be contacted on 087 7965204 if there is anyone who knows of a suitable premises.

The South of Ireland Band Championships have taken place in Clonakilty since 1982 but the 2020 and 2021 events were held due to Covid and were  held online with bands submitting recordings of performances.


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