Pipe bands mourn loss of a true gentleman

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There was terribly sad news for the pipe band movement in Northern Ireland last weekend with the passing of Fred Walker, the longest-serving secretary, former president and a life ambassador of the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association’s Northern Ireland Branch.

His funeral service took place on Thursday in Carnmoney Presbyterian Church, Newtownabbey. There was a large attendance from the pipe band community and piper Derek Boyce of Bleary & District played a tune he had composed and named ‘President Fred J Walker’ which he composed a number of years ago.

Among those present were members of the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association from Glasgow, representatives of the Irish Pipe Band Association (IPBA) and many from the local NI Branch.

It is fair to say that Fred Walker was one of the most well-known officials in the pipe band movement in Ireland and is rightly recognized as being instrumental in shaping the local branch into the force it is today – probably the largest and most successful in the association.

Fred’s involvement in pipe bands began with his playing career as a side drummer in Legacurry Pipe Band.

The band would compete over the years in the then Scottish Pipe Band Association NI Branch competitions and also the Northern Ireland Bands’ Association (NIBA) Ulster Hall competitions.

Fred became leading drummer of the Legacurry band and would also serve as its secretary for 30 years.

Fred originally took the office of RSPBA NI Branch secretary in 1965 and held the post until stepping down in 2001. He then served as president from 2006 to 2014, when he retired, handing over the reins to Winston Pinkerton. It was then that he made an honorary life ambassador.

For many years he was also a recognisable voice at local pipe band competitions as he announced the results at the finale. In particular many people will remember him affectionately for his witty comments generally relating to the geographical location that a prize-winning band may have come from and particularly his misuse of an old war time slogan, which became a catchphrase, when he would remark that a “band’s journey had been really necessary” if they had travelled a long distance to obtain a prize.

Fred’s formative years in the branch were certainly influenced by many of its founders, such as president J.A. Faulkner, chairman Eddie McVeigh and his predecessor as secretary, Tom Hart.

My own personal memories of Fred will always be of the positive and encouraging way he had with people. When I took over the Tartan Talk column after Walter Porter retired, Fred took time to congratulate me on my new role and wish me all the best for the future. His encouraging words were greatly appreciated.

Quite simply Fred Walker was known as a true gentleman.

I would like to extend the sympathies of the pipe band fraternity to his family and many friends at this very sad time.

The Spring Gatherin organisers have announced details of a full schedule of workshops and seminars to take place as part of this year’s event on Saturday, April 9.

All workshops will take place in the conference centre on level two of the Ramada Plaza, Belfast.

The workshops include the following: Ian Carlisle will discuss grant aid programmes, child protection and Access NI. He will also present Accordion For Beginners; Colin Wasson, Chairman, with Alastair Patterson MLA, will discuss the topic ‘Bands - The Way Forward In Our Community’.

The NI Piping & Drumming School’s Mark Armstrong and Brian Rea will be hosting a workshop on piping and drumming for beginners; Millar Wicks Accordion & Flute Paul Irvine Presents Flute Road Show; finally Nigel Edgar presents ‘Fluting for Beginners and Youth’.

Full information including times and venues for these workshops is available at www.springgatherin.co.uk.

Cairncastle Ulster Scots are holding their March Soiree on Wednesday, March 30 in Halfway House Hotel, Ballygally at 8pm. Special guests are John Burns from Maghera playing guitar and singing, Wilson Scott from Maghera playing fiddle and many more, along with local band The Grouse Beaters. There will be plenty of entertainment to suit all tastes.

Admission is £5 which includes tea and biscuits. For more information call 07810 294 638 or email cairncastle.ulsterscots@hotmail.com