By John Fitzgerald
The band’s debut appearance at Croke Park coincided with a match there involving the Kilkenny Camogie team. The girls, who scooped an All-Ireland victory, received a great morale booster from the presence of the band in Dublin. When the team returned to Kilkenny, the Camogie players formed a guard of honour with raised hurleys for the band on the Parade.
The James Stephen’s GAA Club formed a special bond with the band at an early stage. After the parish team won its first championship in 1924, the band led the triumphant lads back from St. James’s Park to The Village. And the club aided the band too, especially by helping to build a new Band hall in the late 1940s.
This was only one example of how the goodwill and community spirit of The Village kept the band alive against the odds. It had survived RIC baton charges, and so too it withstood the icy winds of economic recession and increasing costs of keeping its show on the road.
In the late thirties, the demolition of the old band hall on the Kells road left St. Patrick’s without a HQ…until Johanna Larkin came to the rescue. Hailed as “Mother of the Band” owing to her years of dedicated service and advice, she allowed her house to be used both to store the instruments and for practise sessions.
In late 1970, money was scarce and the band faced a seeming crisis as many of its vital musical instruments were beyond repair. A cloud of gloom and doom hovered over St. Patrick’s Parish. Was this the end of its beloved brass band?
No chance! A meeting was called of all band members and supporters, past and present, and an action group was formed to save the band. The small, dedicated committee initiated a worldwide appeal. The plea went out to people of Kilkenny extraction everywhere. And the call did not go unheeded.
Donations came pouring in from every part of the world where a proud Kilkenny heart ticked in forced or voluntary exile. Soon, the hard-pressed members had sparkling new silver instruments. The band was back on the road, marching with a new confidence and the professionalism that had distinguished its long and often turbulent history
In late 1970, with its financial crisis out of the way, the band soared to new heights of fame and popularity with the formation of the Corps of Majorettes. The band chose twenty-five glamorous girls from hundreds of potential female recruits. The vetting process was ruthless but fair. Only the most committed applicants could be considered.
Kilkenny Military Barracks was the scene for much of the tough training course the women had to undergo before “passing out” as Majorettes.
Day and night they practiced and rehearsed. On bleak winter days, they drilled endlessly on the parade ground. On dark evenings, military commands directed at the turbo-charged young women pierced the winter air above the barracks. “Do they ever get a rest at all?” an admiring soldier asked his mates as he eyed the twenty-five trainees through a frosted window in his quarters.
A high-ranking army officer who witnessed them being put through their paces in the middle of a snowfall remarked that even regular defence force training was “a synch” compared to what these elite ladies had to endure to reach the impeccable standards set by the band…
Pictures show 1) The Majorettes parading through Enniscorthy in 1973; 2) the Patrician Year Band (1961), and 3) the Lord Mayor of Dublin presenting Majorette Teresa Walsh with an award.
To be continued…