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McCallum Bagpipes


McNeillstown Pipe Band was formed one year after World War Two, in the winter of 1946. The idea of a pipe band originated following the twelfth of July parade that year, at which McNeillstown True Blues Orange Lodge was led by two members of the Rasharkin Pipe Band. At the next Lodge meeting that winter, it was proposed that a pipe band be formed. This proposal was passed and a subscription was given by the Lodge for the purchase of practice chanters to start a band.

There were three main founder members of the band, Sammy Spence took on the mantle of Pipe Major, with Willie McCullough (piper) joining from Killyless Orange Lodge as Band Master. Sammy Law, who was a member of McNeillstown Lodge, took on the role of leading drummer. The main aim at this early stage was to recruit and teach new players. The response from locals was overwhelming, with the hall being packed to capacity on the first few nights.

Having assembled a musical ensemble, new tasks appeared, in particular, raising money to buy a uniform. One novel method of fund-raising was employed; members of the band performed as they were driven round on a sand lorry, stopping at local shops and houses to ask for contributions.

The band season started on the evening of the eleventh of July, the night before their first parade. On this evening, the time would be spent fixing and seasoning the pipes, with some practice of the tunes for the following day. The band would then lead the lodge on the twelfth parades, which rotated among the districts of Portglenone, Cullybackey and Ahoghill. Other outings on the band's calendar included local parades and events, one of which was known as 'Big Monday', where on the last Monday of August, the band would go to Portrush for a parade in the morning followed by an afternoon of entertainment and another parade to end the day. A few years later, the band also accepted the responsibility of leading the Black Lodge in their parades.

In the period from 1946-1969, the founder member held unto their roles in the band. There was some change in personnel in the band, as is still the case today. Tommy McQuillan, Bob MacDonald and Jock Devlin all had periods in charge of teaching the pipers, but as with all bands there are a few members who remain through the years.

McNeillstown have been fortunate to have many families and individuals supporting the band; one of these individuals is Frank Andrews, who started out with the band in 1957, aged 11. Frank was asked to assume leadership of the band in 1969, a position which he held until his retirement at the end 2000. The band improved through the years and by 1971 were keen to start competing. A hearing was arranged with the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association and in 1972 the band competed at Grade Four level in Ballyclare, gaining a creditable third place.

This was the start of McNeillstown's success story. As they continued to improve, they climbed through the grades. In 1979, while still classed at Grade Two level, the band won the Ulster Championships in Grade One. The 1981 year, the Portglenone based band reached the premier grade and have remained there since.

A few individuals must be acknowledged for their contribution towards the progress of the band. Davy Gordon was responsible for teaching the pipers in preparation for competitions in the early days. Cecil Kenny and Winston Pollock both had lengthy spells as Pipe Sergeant and contributed a lot to the band. Harold Brownlow took over this role during 1978 and in partnership with Pipe Major Frank Andrews had enjoyed many successful piping years. The drumming leadership has changed on several occasions during Frank's reign as Pipe Major. David Bolton, Winston Mateer and Billy Barham have all achieved success in the band with their respective drum corps. In 1993 Keith Orr joined, bringing with him a drum corp which had already been placed first in the world's March, Strathspey and Reel section. In their first outing with the band in Hawick, Scotland, the band were placed fourth, with the drum corp winning the European title.

Outside the domestic competitions, McNeillstown have enjoyed several trips overseas. In 1979 they went on a ten day trip to the Canadian National Exhibition having won the World's in Grade Two the year before. In more recent times, the band has ventured to the Interceltique Festival in Lorient, France on four occasions. They have won the pipe band competition against some stiff opposition on each trip.

Only some of the band's prominent individuals and events have been highlighted in this report. It is impossible to mention all the people and happenings which contribute to sixty plus years of McNeillstown. However, one of the characteristics which stands out most about the band is the relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere which exists in the midst of a very competitive environment. This has served not only to bring the members of McNeillstown recognition in band circles, but also gives them an opportunity for the forming of lifelong friendships.