Today marks the start of the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association (NI Branch) competition season.
Castle Park, Bangor provides the venue for this season’s opening contest, the Ards and North Down Championships, which get underway at midday.
A total of 31 bands have entered across the various grades, however there is no grade one this afternoon. In addition, 39 drum majors will also be taking part.
The first competition of any season brings with it plenty of hope and promise with all bands eager to make their mark.
In grade 2 Thiepval Memorial, the PSNI, Manorcunningham and Bleary & District will be competing. These same bands recently took part in the Spring Gatherin’ giving us a flavour of their selections for this season.
For Bleary & District this must surely be the start of another season pushing for honours locally and in the major championships with a move into grade one their ultimate goal.
The PSNI and Manorcunningham have strengthened over the winter period while Thiepval will be getting ready to test themselves in their debut at grade 2 level.
Closkelt have been added to the bands contesting grade 3a. The Co Down band has welcomed a number of new faces over the winter and after being initially placed in grade 3b they have been moved up another level.
Annsborough, Ballybriest, Drumlough and Raffrey are well established in 3a and will be pushing for top spot.
Grade 3b was dominated by Thiepval Memorial last season so their move to grade 2 opens the way for others to step into the limelight.
Competing today are Colmcille, Matt Boyd Memorial, Augharan, Upper Crossgare and Achill. A win this afternoon could see any of these bands push on over the course of the season.
Grade 4a is the biggest in terms of numbers with 10 bands taking part and it is going to be tough to call who comes out on top. It is also the first grade to take place this afternoon, with Tamlaght O’Crilly first on the line at midday.
Grade 4b has eight bands taking part and again it’s an early opportunity for someone to lay down a marker ahead of a busy season.
As always a panel of leading adjudicators has been assembled and they are as follows: Jim Semple and Cameron Edgar for piping, David Brown on drumming, with Jim Baxter looking after ensemble.
Good luck to all the bands and drum majors taking part today.
I have been asked to mention the Co Down Section’s charity fundraising work this season which is the Northern Ireland Children’s Hospice.
Tickets will on sale at contest venues, however they can also be purchased online.
To buy raffle tickets online, in advance of the 20th June draw date, visit www.justgiving.com/nichildrenshospice and click on ‘Donate’ to make a donation of your chosen amount. Once you receive the email confirming your donation, forward it to firstname.lastname@example.org. One raffle ticket will be issued for every £1 you have donated and will be entered into the draw in your name.
Proceeds of entries made online go directly to the Northern Ireland Children’s Hospice.
Mervyn commented: “I would encourage everyone to support us in this fundraising project. I would also thank everyone who has already bought tickets and wish them the best of luck in the draw at the Craigavon & District Championships in Lurgan, Northern Ireland on Saturday, 20th June.”
It was great to see the RSPBA NI Branch having a formal presence at the Balmoral Show with Branch officials being present on a stand at the show and I understand they received considerable interest from visitors to the show.
Having a presence at major events such as the Balmoral Show can only help spread the news of the outstanding work done by the branch here in Northern Ireland.
Ravara Pipe Band were also at the leading agricultural showcase entertaining spectators in the main arena.