THE 53rd Ulster Pipe Band Championships took place last Saturday in Donard Park Newcastle. This magnificent setting, which nestles at the foot of the Mourne Mountains, is always a popular venue for pipe band enthusiasts.
It was mainly a day of bright sunshine for this, the last of this year's local competitions, and hundreds of holiday makers mingled with fans to lend their support to the 63 bands and drum majors competing for the Ulster Championship titles.
At the end of the Finale, World Champion bands and drum corps - McNeillstown, Annsborough, Gortaclare, Seven Towers, Finvoy, Ballinderry Bridge and Field Marshal Montgomery - were led into the arena by world champion drum majors Brian Wilson and Elizabeth Sloan, where they received the well deserved applause from their fellow bandsmen, bands women and supporters.
Field Marshal Montgomery, under Pipe Major Richard Parkes and Leading Tip Keith Orr, took their pipers and drummers to their 14th Ulster Championship title in Grade 1.
It appeared to be just a stroll in the park for this band with their unique sound and superb playing, and their record of Ulster titles will be difficult for any other band to equal or surpass. Pipe Major Alfie Rea and Grade 1 Ballycoan won the Champion of Champions title for 2004 in both piping and drumming.
Other local bands to do well at the Ulster championships were Upper Crossgare under Pipe Major Trevor Connor, who took third place in Grade 2, and Drumlough, in only their second outing this season, took a well deserved fourth place in Grade 4B with Pipe Major Nigel Burrows.
What an encouragement this must be to this band who have not been competing for some time now.
In drum majoring, world champion Elizabeth Sloan from Stoneyford, had no equal when she won the Ulster junior title and clinched the overall champion of champions titles.
What an array of silverware this young teenager has won this season.
World Champion Brian Wilson (Syerla) added the Ulster trophy to last week's world title and Kathy Megarry (Upper Crossgare) who was runner up in the senior grade drum majoring section, won the champion of champions.
Other Ulster champions were Ballinderry Bridge (Grade 2) Finvoy (Grade 3A) Altnaveigh Memorial (Grade 3B) Annsborough (Grade 4A) Cullybackey (Grade 4B), Ryan Ferry (Juvenile Drum Major) and Craig Clydesdale (Novice Juvenile Drum Major).
Chieftain of the Day was Councillor Robert Burgess, Chairman of Down District Council and the contest was organised as usual in their most efficient way by the Northern Ireland branch 4 the RSPBA in conjunction with Down District Council.
Mervyn Herron, contest secretary of the NI Branch, announced provisional dates for the televising of the recent European Pipe Band Championships, which were held in Lisburn on 31st July. The two 40 minute programmes are hoped to be aired on the 13th and the 20th September on BBC television.
These dates and times will be confirmed soon.
This Saturday 28th August the curtain comes down for the last of this year's competitions when the Cowal Highland Gathering is held in Dunoon Scotland.
One hundred and sixty bands will be competing at the last of the big five majors with only fourteen travelling from Ulster for the event.
They are Field Marshal Montgomery, Ballycoan and Bleary in Grade 1; Cullybackey and Ballinderry Bridge in Grade 2; North Belfast Tullintrain and Quinn Memorial in Grade 3A; Seven Towers and Altnaveigh Memorial in 3B; Bellaghy Gortaclare and Castlerock in 4A and Cleland Memorial in 4B.