The Clew Bay Pipe Band comprises 40 members, an almost equal mix of male, female, children and adults. Reluctant when it comes to the spotlight both may be, but the band owes its origins to two sons of Achill, a place where the tradition of piping makes it almost an innate talent, and practically a birthright.
“I met Des outside Pollagh Church on St Patrick’s Day in 2010 and asked him would he have any interest in establishing a pipe band in Westport, as I knew he had moved to the town” Peter explained. “It was idle talk at first but six months later we decided to make a start.”
We had our first chanter lesson (this involves learning the fingering element of the instrument before any wind is introduced). Des put a ten week module in place for pupils in Carrowholly National School (where Peter is Principal) to see if they had any real interest or aptitude for it,” explains Peter.
Seven of that original class from Carrowholly remain in the band today, but it wasn’t until Easter 2011 that percussion was added to the line-up, and there are now six snare drummers, one bass drummer and six tenor drummers. Owen McNamara from Achill introduced the band to the drums, and began giving lessons, which he still does on a weekly basis. Erin Fadian and Rachel Knipe, both members of The Achill Pipe Band, helped to develop the percussion section by providing tenor workshops.
“Des and Owen pulled everything together during weekly lessons, they really knew what they were doing” Peter recalls. “We had targets we wanted to reach and we did that ahead of schedule. This was down to the fact that we had a particularly talented and dedicated group of teenagers on board who loved what they were doing. Everyone could see that rapid progress was being made. ”
In the pipe section, Des & Peter taught chanter on a weekly basis. All children interested in playing were given lessons and equipment free of charge. Neither of the two have ever received payment for tuition since the foundation in 2010 and have given of their time freely. They also enlisted outside expertise when they organised workshops from other Achill natives, Keith O’Malley - a St Laurence O’Toole Pipe Band member, Alan Bromwell (also SLOT) and Michael ‘Flix’ Lavelle from The Achill Pipe Band,
In February 2011, the first sets of Pipes arrived on the Shores of Clew Bay
then, in November 2011, the band secured LEADER funding through South West Mayo Development Company (SWMDC). Instruments for a Pipe Band are very expensive. It was through working alongside people like Sabina Trench from SWMDC to obtain LEADER funding, along with further funding from Mayo County Council, Westport Town Council, private donors, local councillors and the band’s own fundraising efforts, that we were able to finally purchase a full complement of necessary equipment.
Band uniforms arrived in February 2012. Each member bought part of their own 12 piece uniform - The Clew Bay Tartan embodies the colours of the local waters, heathers and landscapes that are visible daily on the shore of Clew Bay.
Interest in the Pipe Band has extended to other primary schools in the locality. Students from Knockrooskey N.S. are now actively involved in the band and lessons for juniors take place weekly. The band continues to expand and develop under the guidance of Des and Peter.
Since its first arrival on the stage in 2012, The Clew Bay Pipe Band has excited audiences all over Ireland and beyond. This exceptionally talented young group led by renowned musician Des Cafferkey (Pipe Major) and Peter Carney (Pipe Sergeant) firstly attracted the attention of Matt Molloy of The Chieftains. Matt invited the band to perform with The Chieftains in 2013 and since then, the band’s rise has been meteoric.
The Clew Bay Pipe Band reached a huge international audience when it performed the German National Anthem at the European Qualifier in 2013 at The Aviva Stadium to an audience of over 75 million. It was the first time the German National Anthem was performed on the bagpipes and their rendition of the song went viral across Germany the following day.
Having appeared on ‘The Late Late Show’, ‘Up For The Match’, ‘The Imelda May Show’ , ‘The Gathering’ and numerous times on Irish TV, the band has also performed live with Imelda May, Mundy, Damien Dempsey, Jack L , Gene Butler and Declan O Rourke.
Added to their list of achievements, the band have recently recorded with Matt Molloy and Imelda May. In early 2015 ‘Tears of Clew Bay’ by Imelda May and The Clew Bay Pipe Band reached number 4 in the Irish Charts. The band performed with Imelda at her sell out shows in Vicar Street, The Marquee Cork and The 3 Arena along with special guest Jeff Beck.
Voted ‘Best Act’ at the 2014 Westport Festival of Music and Food, audiences have raved about their ‘Pipe Versity Show’!
A fusion of Piping, Drumming, Rock , Traditional and Choral music awaits those who come to see the band perform.
Special guests at Pipe Versity concerts over the last 3 years have included Matt Molloy, Declan O Rourke, Damien Dempsey, Mundy, Maurice Lennon along with local favourites Dan Delaney, Joanne Keegan, Dramacode, The Cresham Dancers, The Sacred Heart Secondary School Choir. Mundy in particular is no stranger to the Pipe Band, having played with them at the Westport Festival of Music and Food 2 years in a row, as well as a sell-out Pipe-Versity gigs in 2014 and 2016. They also performed at a live televised Mayo Day Concert at the Royal Theatre Castlebar in 2015.
As concerts continue to sell out quickly in Westport and beyond, the band enjoys huge support wherever they go. The band continues to blend Pop, Rock , Traditional and Choral music in a totally unique and exciting way.