RONNIE Crawford admits he wasn't overly enthusiastic about pipe band music upon hearing it for the first time. But 12 years after beginning his involvement with the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association, the well known Lisburn councillor has reached the pinnacle of its local organisation.
The Moira man recently became president of the RSPBA Northern Ireland branch and quickly pledged to obtain improved sponsorship to further strengthen the association.
Mr. Crawford's involvement with the Pipe Band Association began
with him selling programmes at major events.
Prior to that it took a while for Mr. Crawford to become accustomed to the pipe band sound. He wasn't overly keen initially but a few listens later he was hooked.
He considers his new position a major privilege.
"I feel greatly honoured to be elected to the position of president of the Northern Ireland branch of the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association, with which I have been associated with for the past 12 years," he said.
"Northern Ireland is the home of the leading branch within the entire pipe band movement and is run with great efficiency and with significant success as competition results regularly indicate."
As far as Mr. Crawford is concerned, the RSPBA has a unique role in Northern Ireland.
Events are avidly followed by people right across the community, something he particularly enjoys and respects.
"Almost uniquely in Northern Ireland, it embraces bandsmen and women from a wide spectrum of the community and is able to host events which celebrate the cultural aspects of the Irish and Ulster-Scots tradition.
"For example I attended an event in Portrush where I saw two boys watching with one wearing a Rangers shirt and the other a Celtic shirt. Where else would you see that?" he pointed out.
"Indeed it is hoped to form a youth ensemble soon which will consist of pipers, drummers, Scottish and Irish dancers and the ensemble will perform at a number of venues in 2004."
The pipe band organisation is flourishing locally. Mr. Crawford himself attends a pipe and drumming school at Laurelhill on a weekly basis where numbers continue to grow.
Bearing this in mind, he underlined the importance of continuing to raise funds.
"The members of the RSPBA are very dedicated people and events are run through voluntary effort. Bands and drum majors are put to great expense and it is my goal to see the garnering of commercial sponsorship which will enable the branch to reward the dedication of the successful bands with better prize money," he said.
"I would appeal to those businesses with a sponsorship budget to consider supporting the events run by the RSPBA, which is a perfect role model for the rest of society in this entire island."
The strength of the RSPBA is also underlined by the close relations between the Northern Ireland branch and its counterpart in the Republic. The All-Ireland competition is held alternately on both sides of the border.
Attendances also continue to rise at major events. Mr. Crawford added. "This just shows the scope of the organisations, there's a lot of friendship and dedication involved.
"The two recent programmes on BBC have also helped to increase the attraction of the competitions which are now seen as an excellent day's entertainment with something for the entire family."