Belfast Telegraph

Hollymount pipers mark 100 years as they parade in Crossgar

Hollymount Pipe Band is taking part in today’s parade in Crossgar
Hollymount Pipe Band is taking part in today’s parade in Crossgar
Claire McNeilly

By Claire McNeilly

Thousands of Orangemen are today taking part in Twelfth parades across Northern Ireland - and for one band it will be an extra special day.

Hollymount Pipe Band, from Co Down, is marking its centenary.

Formed just after the First World War ended in 1919 and reformed after the Second World War in 1945, it was the first pipe band in the Lecale district and is the only one left out of eight.

Members will be among those taking part in 19 parades - one of them independent.

Co Armagh will once again host the biggest gathering, with Tandragee hosting 11 districts comprising more than 150 lodges.

Other parades will be held in places such as Belfast, Coleraine, Ballymena and Rathfriland.

Hollymount Pipe Band is taking part in the Crossgar parade.

While the faces have changed, the deep-rooted family connections between its members have not and the ties between the generations remain strong.

In 1981, there were six father-son combinations playing in the band, which practises at Hollymount Orange Hall on the Woodgrange Road, just outside Downpatrick.

Today, within its 24-strong ranks, aged from three to 77, are four father-child relationships, with lead drummer Ronnie Steele attempting to set a record, with three of his four young daughters in the band.

Sammy Strain, the elder statesman, has connections to the band that date back 100 years to when his great-uncle, James Strain of Woodgrange, was its first pipe major.

He also has pipes dating back to the band's early days, along with the framed photographs of former pipe band members and lodge members, which line the walls of the Orange Hall.

James Strain was taught by the band's first piping instructor, William Maxwell from Newcastle, who travelled by train to Tullymurry and then took a bike or horse and cart to the hall.

Retired farmer Sammy, who was seven when he joined the band, said the pipe band world was a natural extension of his family life.

"It was my cousin who taught me the pipes, even though my father, Sam, was pipe major at the time," he told the Down Recorder.

"I joined in 1948 and played my first Twelfth in Newcastle in 1950 when I was nine. At that time, I was playing what's called a three-quarter set of pipes.

"I can't remember being asked if I wanted to join, but as my great-grandfather was one of the first members, it was just in the family. It was just handed down, it was taken for granted, more or less, that you were going to learn.

"When we started out, there really was nothing else, so the band was number one. It's difficult now to keep a band going, with so many other things for the young ones to be doing, so how we managed to keep a band going 100 years, I do not know."

He explained that it can cost from between £750 to £1,000 to kit out an adult pipe band member in full uniform and around £300 per child.

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