This St Patrick’s Day in Balbriggan will be a very special one for the town’s 35-strong brass and reed band, which bears the name of Ireland’s male patron saint.
For St Patrick’s Brass and Reed Balbriggan Town Band, it marks the start of celebrations of its 140th anniversary, culminating in a gala concert in November.
Founded in 1883, the band has taken part in every St Patrick’s Day Parade in the town since then!
It will be an emotional day for long-serving members, including band master Larry Dunne, oboe and clarinet player Damien Byrne and saxophonist Gary Tolan.
Larry has been integral to the band since reviving its fortunes in the mid-1970s, while chairperson Damien, a native of Artane, where he was a member of the famous boys’ band, found a ready-made community when he moved to Balbriggan in 2003.
For Gary, a third-generation member since the age of 10, the band has been a staple of his life, as it was for his grandfather and father, Bill and Richard Tolan.
The band and its music has proved an enduring symbol of the town at public and private events across north County Dublin and beyond, proudly wearing the Balbriggan crest assigned to them by the old Town Commission.
But, in the late 1960s, numbers had dwindled and its instruments were put in the care of the town commissioners until Larry revived the band.
Now, its make-up is representative of Balbriggan’s youth and cultural diversity, with a burgeoning beginners’ group and members and past members from across the globe.
“When my wife Amelia, who plays trumpet, and I moved to Balbriggan we knew nobody until we joined the band after seeing it at the St Patrick’s Day Parade,” said Damien.
“Now, our daughters, Emily (12, clarinet) and Norah (9, trumpet), are in the beginner group, so we are basically replacing ourselves for down the line.”
According to Gary, the only language that should matter to any band is music.
“We have had members from African countries, Italy, the Philippines, Spain and Ukraine. We are multi-cultural and integrational,” said Gary.
“If you are playing music, there is only one language. It is also wonderful to welcome new people to our town, as well as to the band.”
Joining as a beginner will get you an instrument (if they have one spare) sheet-music and reeds all covered by €10 a-year membership and a €5 weekly subscription.
Advancing years are no barrier to joining, members have been known to take up learning an instrument and playing with the band after retirement.
The band meets each Wednesday night at the Cairde premises at the old St George’s School at Hampton Street, beginners from 7-7.45, with band practice from 8pm-9.30pm. It is on the lookout for a larger, more user-friendly base.
There are thoughts of using another weekday or Saturday mornings to start another beginner group.
“It is not a strait-laced institution, there is a tremendous sense of fun,” said Gary.
“Part of the joy is seeing younger members grow up and then watching their children come through to the band.
“And seeing donations of instruments from people who no longer use or need them. Little things like that stick out.”
But, of course, it is the comforting sound of brass which binds the band together.
“People will always stop and listen regardless of what you are playing,” Gary adds. “It is the sound of 30 people all playing together guided by a conductor. It just hits you.”
“For me,” says Damien “I love to see the marvellous affection the people of Balbriggan have for its band, which I feel embodies the town and its history.
“There is a fantastic mix of old Balbriggan and new Balbriggan, I think that is something to be very proud of, and we are always on the lookout for new people.”
Anyone interested in joining should email Damien Byrne at [email protected]
The local Irish Country Women’s Association will hold a fundraising quiz for the band on Thursday, March 23 at the Senior Citizens’ Centre on High Street at 8.00pm.
The band will host a ‘Come and Try’ night as part of the Balbriggan Loves Learning Festival for potential new members at Sarsfield House, Mill Street on Tuesday, March 28 at 8pm.