Blanchardstown Brass Band, originally known as St. Brigids Brass & Reed Band was established in 1826, and has been performing Brass Band music now for over 187 years. The name was changed in 1970 to reflect the All-Brass line-up and also to give the Band a better identity. We have our own Band room adjacent to the church car park in Blanchardstown village and rehearse there on Thursday evenings. As you might have guessed none of the original members are around today, however one of our senior members, our President, Joe McGregor formally Cornet & now Baritone, has over 70 years service with the band and his dedication is a great example to the other members. In all we have 24 playing members.
The Band plays in a wide variety of venues during the summer months such as the Phoenix Park Hollow, Farmleigh House, St.Stephen’s Green, and any number of local festivals and private functions. Most years we undertake about 30 engagements of approximately 2 hours each and an average recital would include Marches, an Overture, selections from the Musicals, popular & novelty items and of course Irish and International music. The Band also plays a wide selection of Christmas music and has featured at the Docklands Christmas Market since its inception.
The Band is non competitive, the members preferring to rehearse for public performance. We are usually invited to play at all the important events in the Blanchardstown/Castleknock/Clonsilla area and in the Blanchardstown Shopping Centre. We have appeared on national television and played on national & local radio and appeared in the final scene of the film The Purple Taxi, 1977 (featuring Peter Ustinof, Charlotte Rampling & Fred Estaire) which was shot on the Pier in Dun Laoghaire (click here to view clip).
Over the last 187 years the Band has given a good many of the youth in the locality an introduction to music and an appreciation of a wide range of music, something that is still sadly not available through our education system. Many of them have gone on to be professional musicians and the Band still plays a very important educational role in the community, most of our younger members now take music as a subject in their Leaving Cert. We supply all our members with an instrument and uniform and all we ask is that they supply the enthusiasm.
The Early Years and more!
As mentioned earlier the Band was established in 1826 and in support of this date, reference is made to an old shield on which the band name and year of its foundation were inscribed. This was carried on all occasions and prominently displayed when giving a concert. Tradition also plays its part in establishing its age. A Mr Corcoran (Musty) who died in 1932 is quoted as saying some years before his death, that the band was over a hundred years old. And, a Mr English (Barn Lodge) who was 83 years old when he died in 1964 was also a source of information of the early days as he was a long-time member of the band. We believe that the band had some connection with a parish Temperance Society as the late Canon Kevin Brady when he was Parish Priest of Blanchardstown in his readings came across the band playing at a Temperance tea-party in the Parish around 1838.
The earliest meeting place remembered, was in what was known as “The Old Society Rooms”, an old thatched cottage which stood where the old Garda Station (next to Ryans garage) is today. In 1903, this cottage was destroyed by fire, some of the instruments were saved, but all the records and papers were lost. The members took the instruments to their homes after this, and weekly rehearsals were held at the village pump on the Car Road at the back of St. Brigid’s cottages on Sunday mornings, followed by a march around the village. Mr P. Cruise, who worked in Rathbourne’s Candle Factory is mentioned as being the mainstay of the band at this time. In 1917, Carroll’s Hall was used, and later the local Court House which was blown up in 1922. Once again, the band suffered the loss of most of its instruments for which they were afterwards compensated with the sum of £80. The Bass Drum was found near the Tolka River after this explosion. In 1924, the band purchased some instruments from the Wellington Quay Workingman’s Club and we still have a Euphonium in playable condition, along with a Big Bass Drum.
Determined to have their own rehearsal hall in 1923, a house-to-house collection was organised in the Parish. Indicative of the disturbed conditions existing at the time is a note made by one of the collectors that “the Rector at Mount Hybla was so relieved at hearing it was not a hold up, he gave us two pounds”. The names of Lord Holmpatrick, the Hon T.K. Laidlaw, Lord Moyne and Lord Iveagh also appear in the subscription lists. With the proceeds of this collection an old disused Army Hut was bought for £15 and re-erected on the Mill Road. This Band room constructed of corrugated iron with a wooden interior accommodated us very well until we were forced to move out, due to the sale of the land, in 1979. After nearly 60 years as a place of music making and friendship the old Band room was sold in 1981 for £200 to be used as a shed for livestock. We now rehearse in a modern Band room in the Priests Field adjacent to the Blanchardstown Church, which we built in 1980 following a successful Buy-a-Brick campaign.
The band took part in all major events which took place in the city and which have since passed into the pages of history. In August 1843, it is said they marched to the Hill of Tara and back, on the occasion of O’Connell’s Monster Repeal meeting when it was reputed that over a million people were present. In the past, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade was an event which merits the description of being unusual. It is reported that the band assembled at 6.30 in the morning and marched to the parish boundary marked by “Nancy Hands” Pub, the owner of which provided liquid refreshments. Having downed these, they marched back to the village so as to be in good time for 8 o’clock Mass. On one occasion on 27th October 1925, at the wedding of Lady Edina Ainsworth to Hans Wellesley Hamilton, the second Lord Holmpatrick, not only the employees of the estate, but practically all the residents of the village took part in the celebrations on the lawn of Abbotstown House, with the Blanchardstown Band providing the music. During the festivities, the Band Master at the time Mr Boyne, a former member of the RIC (Royal Irish Constablulary), met a British Army Officer with whom he had served in the First World War, and they well and truly celebrated their reunion. We still have in our library, a collection of music and marches arranged for the band by Mr Boyne. The band headed the Old IRA veterans into O’Connell Street during the 50th Anniversary of the Easter Rising in 1966, and played the Anthem in Croke Park on many occasions. In 1979, on the occasion of the visit of Pope John Paul II to Ireland, the band led the procession of people coming from the west of the City to the Mass in the Phoenix Park. Over half a million people attended the Mass on the day. While we have played for many different organisations and associations, political, religious and sporting the members hold to their own affiliations so much so that during the troubles in Ireland at the beginning of the last century the band stayed neutral, an arrangement which held the band together and suited all, with one exception. It is said that during the Land League Campaign the bands bass drummer got his son, who played the cornet, to stand opposite the RIC Barracks and play all the rebel tunes he knew, and again, on their way to an engagement in Chapelizod he went to the door of the Protestant Church in Castleknock and beat loudly on the bass drum while Divine Service was being held, so much for ecumenism!
Our Bandmasters through the years were a Mr O’Driscoll around 1840 whom Dermot Byrne, one of our cornet players is a direct descendant; a Mr Brannigan (Chapelizod); Mr Boyne; next to follow was Mr Ed Smith who was a cornet player under Mr Boyne; Mr J Martin who was trained as a Hibernian School boy; Mr Lynch a member of the original Garda Band and the long defunct Garda Ceili Band; Mr Tommy (Busty) Smith from the Army School of Music; Mr Pat O’Brien ex Army School of Music; Mr Jimmy Lowe, an instructor in the Army School of Music; Mr Billy Byrne, Conductor of the Garda Band, Mr Michael Harford, Band Secretary for over 60 years and a former cornet/baritone player and from 2010 Zdenek Ondrousek a native of the Czech Republic and a graduate of the Conservatory of Music in Pardubice.
Our first ever uniforms were navy blue with light blue piping and trimmings, bought in 1959, but caps and satchels were worn for 30 years before that. In 1971 we went all “Mod” with a snappy slate-blue blazer and grey slacks followed in 1977 by the more traditional uniform in bottle green with gold trimmings on the jacket & trousers. Our current uniform is a burgundy blazer with black trousers purchased in 1994. In March 2010 we got new outdoor jackets which we were delighted to perform in on St. Patrick’s Day in Kilcock. Over the last few years we have invested a lot of money in professional quality instruments and while they can cost anything from €1000 to €5000 each we feel that this is one of our highest priorities.
Through the years, engagements to play for Dublin Corporation, Dublin County Councils, Dun Laoghaire Borough Council, Bray U.D.C., garden parties, sports meetings, fetes etc. were always welcome as the performance fees helped to keep our funds healthy and our Bank Manager tolerant.
The Band is in a very strong position entering the new Millennium and we hope to continue for quite some time yet and look forward to celebrating 200 years of Brass Banding in 2026. To conclude we have a poem about the Band that was written in 1971 by a local bard Tommy Bracken who lived in the Sandpits, Castleknock. This poem illustrates the affection by which the Blanchardstown Brass Band is held by the local community.