THE recent television programme from the BBC television on the European Championships held in Lisburn, and which highlighted the very best of all Northern Ireland Pipe Bands and Drum Majors, was one of the best ever to be shown.
Presented in a very professional way by Mervyn Herron, Contest secretary and National Council member, the two 40 minute programmes covered every grade and featured the top contenders for the titles.
Mervyn had certainly put a lot of his time into learning the history of each band and his comments on their achievements were most encouraging.
There were interviews from pipe majors, drum majors, adjudicators and officials of the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association including RSPBA President George Ussher, RSPBA Executive Officer Ian Embelton and President of the Northern Ireland Branch Ronnie Crawford.
The second programme finished with a very moving finale, in which senior All Ireland champion piper Alen Tully played a lament written by his father Terry Tully.
During this time a list of names of those who had died during the year, and who had been associated with the Northern Ireland Branch, appeared on screen. A very thoughtful and touching gesture, which I'm sure was deeply appreciated by those concerned.
The first of this year's Northern Ireland branch meetings was held recently in Lisburn and was chaired by George Ussher, Chairman of the Northern Ireland Branch of the RSPBA.
Several proposals were read out to be discussed at the AGM on Saturday 9th October.
It is hoped to hold a St. Andrew's or Burns Night this year which will feature all winning bands and drum majors that were successful in the major championships this past season.
Minister Angela Smith, who is a keen supporter of the pipe band movement, is hoped to host this event. It was reported that the Ulster Youth Ensemble has received 27 applications up to the present and these are been considered by Sam Bailie, Director of the Piping and Drumming School.
July 2005 is the 60th anniversary of the All Ireland Pipe Band Championships, which will take place in Newcastle. 2005 is also the year of the 75th anniversary of the World Pipe Band Championships in Glasgow.
It is hoped to make this a week long Festival with a contest on Friday if enough entries are received. The big event will be as usual on the Saturday.
Chairman George Ussher announced at the Branch meeting that three officers would not be standing for re-election this year.
They are Lorraine McVeigh, Branch Secretary; Joanne Davidson, Assistant Secretary and Mervyn Mayes, Trophy Officer.
It was also announced that the Branch hopes to employ a part time secretary and have applied for funds for this position.
Nominations for the above posts will be accepted at the AGM, which will be held in the Bridge Community Centre, Lisburn on Saturday 9th October at 10.30am for l lam start.
An exciting new venue has been planned by the Co. Down section for their annual outdoor competition next year. Due to the European Championships being arranged for Banbridge on Saturday 25th June - the usual venue for their event - the committee had to seek a new place to hold their competition.
They decided on Castle Ward the National Trust's 800-acre estate near the shores of Strangford Lough and it is hoped that the BBC will also be present to televise the event.
The new session of training for Ulster drum majors will commence on 23rd October. This will take the form of a discussion day to decide on the way forward for the class.
The meeting will take place in the new bowling pavilion in Linenhall Street behind the Downshire Hotel, Banbridge starting at l lam. It is hoped to get a working rota and other organisational matters sorted, with a review of the 2004 season.
Pipe Major Frank Andrews was honoured recently with the presentation of the prestigious `Contribution to Music Awards' which was given to him at the Portglenone Music and Dance Festival held in September.
This award was given in recognition of the contribution Frank has made to piping.
Frank Andrews joined McNeillstown Pipe Band at the age of ten and was taught piping by Sammy Spence, a local piper from Mayboy. In 1969 he became Pipe Major and along with 10-12 very committed pipers the band began to work towards taking part in competitions. They achieved the very commendable award of Champion of Champions the following year.
It was however 1980 that was the most memorable year for the band when they travelled to Scotland to compete in the World Championships.
Their performance resulted in them becoming World Champions at Grade 2. From this they progressed to Grade 1 in 1980 - a level the band maintained for 20 years. They won the All Ireland Grade 1 title four times in 1982, 84, 86 and 87.
Frank retired as Pipe Major of McNeillstown Pipe band in 2000 but his immense understanding of pipe band music is clearly recognised by all who know him and in recent years he has become involved with Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band and Seven Towers from Ballymena as well as helping several other local bands.
As reported in a recent television programme featuring the piping tradition in Northern Ireland, the distinctive Frank Andrews sound can always be identified by those who enjoy pipe music.
He has indeed contributed much to the world of piping across the Province and beyond. His commitment and love for pipe music with his easy going personality has led to him becoming one of the most distinctive and best loved characters in the pipe band world.
Don't forget the 2004 World Solo Drumming Championships, which take place in Bathgate Academy on Saturday 30th October. These solos are sponsored by Sam Hodgen Andante Drums Rathfriland Co Down.