Disbanding Ulster Bands Association donates toys to children’s unit

Members of Moorfields Flute Band parading in the Ballymena twelfth.
Members of Moorfields Flute Band parading in the Ballymena twelfth.

A band umbrella group which was set up around the time of the Good Friday Agreement is getting ready to disband – unless someone steps in to revive it.

The Ulster Bands Association has made what could be one final grand gesture by giving £2,500 worth of toys to the haematology unit at the children’s division of the Royal Victoria Hospital.

At its peak, the group represented more than 60 bands across the Province.

But it has fallen into abeyance and is now virtually defunct, with its web address unresponsive and no one paying their membership fees for about the last three years.

Co-founder Edmund Kelley said that his own declining well-being had a lot to do with it, but feels it may have generally run its course anyway.

However, there is still time for new leadership to get involved if they want.

“It was set up in 1998. It did a lot of good work in representing bands at the Parades Commission,” said Mr Kelley.

“But, as I say, I’ve fallen into ill health.

“Other trustees have their careers to consider which must come before the bands.

“It’s an inevitable decision we’ve had to take. We’ve had no one coming forwards from the ranks to take our place.”

The founding of the Parades Commission was the catalyst for the group’s creation, because they saw “absolutely no consultation” happening with bands.

“Speaking quite frankly, we were just regarded as a pack of drunken thugs, not as musicians,” he said.

“I’m ex-civil service, 67 years old, almost totally abstinent for most of my life. I found that hard to swallow.”

The gift of £2,500 worth of toys is a bid to give the last of the group’s cash away ahead of its planned disbandment.

“Normally we’d just do this anonymously and quietly,” said Mr Kelley.

“But bands have been getting such a bad press over this last year with flag protests and the Ardoyne protests.

“We need to highlight the fact we do good work, as well as attracting public attention for the wrong reasons.”

He said that in the past the group had educated bandsmen not to react to taunts while they embarked on their marches, helping to improve their public image.

Today, the group may well have “serviced its purpose” said the Carrickfergus man, but added: “Should anybody want to take the mantle up, the infrastructure is there. It’s not confirmedly wound-up yet.”

Bands columnist at the News Letter Quincey Dougan, himself a former committee member of the association, said the organisation was widely understood not to have been active for some years.

But in its day it had been a “pioneering” body – and was even instrumental in instigating the News Letter’s own Drumbeat column.

He suggested similar ideas to the ones it had embodied are today at work in regional forums and in the Confederation of Ulster Bands.