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.
Des Cafferkey is the Pipe Major of Banna Píob Chuan Modh, which makes him the musical director, and senior instrumentalist. Peter Carney, a relative newcomer to the difficult instrument, is the Pipe Sergeant, and he coordinates the behind the scenes work and logistics for the group. Neither want the spotlight shining only on them, but it is impossible to explain how the band came to exist, without focusing on the tentative early efforts of these two.
“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 seemed like idle talk at first but six months later we said ‘lets go for it’ and Des, who is a very talented piper, made a few calls to Terry Tully, who is Pipe Major of St Laurence O’Toole Pipe Band in Dublin, who have been World Champions and are ranked in the top three in the world, about what we should do next.”
Peter may not have realised it, but Des was consulting with piping royalty, and a progressive chain of events quickly began unfolding. “Two years ago we had our first chanter lesson (this involves learning the fingering element of the instrument before any wind is introduced) and 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 four tenor drummers. Owen McNamara from Achill introduced the band to the drums, and began giving lessons, which he still does on a weekly basis, while Erin Fadian and Rachel Knipe, both members of The Achill Pipe Band, helped to develop the percussion section by providing master class tenor workshops.
“Des and Owen pulled everything together during weekly lessons, they really knew what they were at,” Peter recalls. “We had targets we had to reach.”
Back in the pipe section, with the strong foundation on the chanter and pipes put in place by Des the Pipe Major, backed up by the daily practices sessions with the students and driving force of Peter Pipe Sergeant along with some workshops from other Achill natives, Keith O’Malley - a St Laurence O’Toole Pipe Band member, and Michael ‘Flix’ Lavelle from The Achill Pipe Band, the first set of pipes arrived in February 2011.
Then, in November 2011, the band secured LEADER funding through South West Mayo Development Company (SWMDC), and the show really got on the road. Instruments and uniforms for such an outfit are expensive, and it was only through working alongside people like Sabina Trench from SWMDC to obtain LEADER funding, along with other funding secured from Mayo County Council, Westport Town Council, significant private donations, funding from local councillors, and the band’s own fundraising efforts, that they were able to finally achieve a full complement of necessary equipment. Where temporary funding shortfalls occurred, Westport Credit Union willingly provided bridging loans. Next up came the uniforms, which arrived in February 2012. Each member had to buy part of their own 12 piece uniform - the ‘Killie Tartan’ - whose colours, symbolically, resemble those of the local waters from which the band draw her name. These came from McCallums in Scotland, who also helped the band financially through the provision of extra credit periods, as they awaited approval of grants.
Interest in the Pipe Band has extend to other primary schools in the locality. Students from Gaelscoil na Cruiche, Golfcourse Road, Westport, and Knockrooskey N.S. are now actively involved in the newly formed Junior section of the band. The band continues to expand and develop under the guidance of Des and Peter and the wider local community.
This St. Patrick’s Day Parade 2013 will see the band swell to a total of 40 members. The Junior section includes a five snare drummers and 21 junior pipers, all new to the band and all hailing from various national schools in the local area, have made their maiden voyage this St. Patrick’s Day. This was a very proud moment for Banna Píob Chuan Modh.