Pipe Band Championships

Skirl o’ the pipes echoes o’er the Clyde as tartan takes over Levengrove Park

Report and pictures by Bill Heaney

Dumbarton went en fete for the Scottish Pipe Band Championships which were held in Levengrove Park in the shadow of Dumbarton Rock.

Fears that the competition, which has grown to be one of the biggest free pipe band competitions in the world, would be swamped by the torrential downpours and threatened by thunder and lightning were soon put aside.

And the sun broke through the dense, dark clouds to reveal silver clouds and bright blue skies which were to last for most of the afternoon.

More than 120 bands and 25,000 people were expected to attend this year’s event and although this year’s attendance may have fallen short of that  given the weather forecast, there were still thousands there.

People came from all over Scotland and from England and from Ireland, north and south, to take part in the competition, which included a Highland Dancing festival and some spectacular marching and baton throwing by drum majors.

Pipes provost 1

Dublin pipe band St Laurence O’Toole receive their winners’ trophy from Provost William Hendrie.

There was celebrations for St Laurence O’Toole band, from Dublin, who took the Grade 1 winners title, led by pipe major Alan Tully.

Provost and event Chieftain William Hendrie said: “I always enjoy the Scottish Pipe Band Championships and this year it has exceeded all expectations.

“This event has it all – traditional music, a brilliant atmosphere and some beautiful Scottish scenery.

“While the weather may not have been on our side, it didn’t stop the dedicated musicians putting on a thrilling show, and it didn’t stop the crowds turning out to see them.

“Hearty congratulations must go to all the competition winners, and indeed everybody who took part, as well as the organisers.

“It’s an honour for Dumbarton to host such an event and we are already looking forward to next year.”

Ian Embelton, Chief Executive of the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association, added: “What a great year at the Scottish Championships. As always the standards were extremely high, and the judges had a tough time choosing winners.

“Bands come here from all over the world and no wonder – what better way to test themselves than against the best Scotland has to offer.

“We look forward to bringing the event back even bigger and better next year.”

Bands from all corners of the world came to Dumbarton to compete.

They included Grade 2 band Balagan from Denmark, and Brisbane Boys College, who came from Australia to participate in the Novice Juvenile A final – placing fourth.

Ben Rodgers, 16, said: “This is the first time I’ve played at the Scottish championships and it’s been really good fun. We only got here from Brisbane two days ago so this has been a great welcome to Scotland.”

Henry Hulbert, 16, added: “The competition is much bigger than anything we have at home and the scenery is better too. Our school was founded by a Scot so having a pipe band is a tradition and that’s how we got into it.”

Spectators came from far and wide to hear the impressive music, including Dries Papen, 28, and Nils Duchene, 23, both from Antwerp in Belgium.

Dries said: “we expected a lot and we haven’t been disappointed. We play in a pipe band ourselves but we weren’t competing. We just wanted to come and listen to the best bands in the world.”

The event has grown to be one of the biggest free pipe band competitions in the world and it brings significant economic benefit to the area each year.

The fabulous funfair was a big hit with youngsters and quite a few others who consider themselves forever young, but the Levengrove children’s play facilities took over as the money ran out and everyone got into the swing of things.

The unmistakable sound of the pipes and drums from some of the best bands in the world echoed across the town where Rory Murphy, Piper o’ Dumbarton, once strutted his stuff.  And Braveheart William Wallace marshalled his troops at the Castle.

Our very own Lomond and Clyde Pipe Band were there too, playing brilliantly and parading smartly in their kilts and Highland outfits, occasionally covered during showers by capes to keep off the rain.

Fraser Sergeant of Lomond and Clyde, who were placed first in last year’s Grade 2 contest, played as a Grade 1 band at the event for the first time.

Fraser, the band’s longest-serving member, said: “This competition is always an important one for us, but more so than ever this year. We’ve also just got our new kilts in our official Lomond and Clyde tartan.”

As they tuned up for their turn to take part, he added: “We can’t wait and hope our hard work pays off.”

A Council spokesperson said: “The annual competition brings significant financial benefit to the West Dunbartonshire economy, with visitors spending at the event and in local shops, restaurants, bars, guest houses and hotels.”

I spoke to one piper from the Manchester Fire and Rescue Service, which did such magnificent work when 22 people died – including a number of children – after an explosion tore through a pop concert at Manchester Arena.

More than 800 other people received physical or psychological injures in the blast at the Ariana Grande concert in May last year.

The piper said he was proud to be associated with the Manchester firefighters with whom they had a close association and who sponsored them and took part in their parades.

He said: “Some of our people are ex-service. It’s great to come up here. We have been camping on Loch Lomondside and at Glen Etive and Glencoe.

“We couldn’t hear ourselves speak for the rain battering on the roof of our tents last night and thought this might not go ahead today.  But it has and we are having a wonderful day. It’s a great event.”

Winners included:
Adult Drum Major: Liam Renton, Inverary and District
Juvenile Drum Major: Kara Gilmour, Scottish Fire & Rescue Service
Junior Drum Major: Kathy Hunter, Manor Cunningham
Grade 2 Final: Ravara
Grade 3A Final: Uddingston Strathclyde
Grade 3B Final: Scottish Borders
Grade Juvenile: Dollar Academy
Grade 4A Final: Lochryan
Grade 4B Final: Bessbrook Crimson Arrow
Novice Juvenile A: Dollar Academy
Grade Novice Juvenile B: North Lanarkshire Schools

Inevitably, there were a couple of bum notes. One of these was the price of drinks at the Levengrove beer tent.

Retired Dumbarton policeman, John Duffy, who is making a successful recovery from a serious illness, told his pals on Facebook: “Having a couple of hours out today at the at the Pipe Band Championship. It has been well worth the effort although the price of drinks is frightening. The crowds are amazing and the atmosphere is terrific.”

The other was a wee wummin at the Highland dancing podium who was sharp with me for using the flash on my camera during the dancing. 

Welcome to Bonnie Scotland, land of the heather and the kilt … and the feisty wee bacchles who guard our heritage.

Lomond and Clyde Pipe Band get in some practice and show off their splendid new uniforms before the Levengrove event while others enjoy the day and the facilities laid on for them.  Pictures by Bill Heaney

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