tartan talk: UK titles up for grabs at Stormont

Manorcunningham Pipe Band pictured entering the competition arena.
Manorcunningham Pipe Band pictured entering the competition arena.
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The UK Pipe Band Championships return to the grounds of Stormont Estate today, getting underway from 10.30am.

Usually, a regular summer afternoon at the East Belfast venue might see a leisurely game of cricket, however today there will be a tartan invasion.

The sound of pipes and drums will fill the air as the second major in the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association’s champion of champions series is welcomed to the city.

This is easily the biggest piping event on these shores this year and with that it has attracted a huge local interest as well as bands travelling from Scotland, England, the Republic of Ireland and one visiting band from the Netherlands.

In all there will be 100 bands and 45 drum majors all challenging for silverware.

As ever the highlight of the day will be the grade one championship which will feature 11 bands.

Field Marshal Montgomery are the defending grade one UK champions and have already started this season in fine form by winning locally at Enniskillen and then claiming the first major - the British Championship - at Bathgate.

It’s hard to see past the usual suspects for prizes in grade one this afternoon with St Laurence O’Toole, Boghall & Bathgate, Inveraray & District and Shotts & Dykehead all likely to feature.

Scottish Power, a regular prize-winning band in recent years, missed out on the top six at the British and will be looking to return to the prizes today.

St Laurence O’Toole gets the grade one competition underway at 2pm.

Another band going into today’s competition as defending champions is Bleary & District. They have settled nicely into their stride in grade 2 this season winning at home and also in Scotland.

Appearing in their first major of the season will be the Police Service of Northern Ireland. They didn’t make the trip to Scotland in May but were victors at Bangor and they have been dominating the drumming prizes in all competitions here at home.

Also competing in grade 2 will be the Co Donegal duo of Manorcunningham and Thiepval Memorial.

Thiepval will be looking to build on a very positive 12th place finish at Bathgate in this their debut season in grade 2. Manorcunningham have been at this level a bit longer and a sixth place finish at the British is an indicator of what they are capable of achieving.

Grades 3a and 3b are fairly light on numbers this season with just 13 bands expected to feature in each. It is certainly possible we could have local winners in both these grades.

Grade 4a is the smallest senior grade today with only 12 bands competing and only one making the trip over from Scotland.

Grade 4b on the other hand has attracted a huge entry of 23 bands and with no qualifying it will be a long session for the panel of judges.

For anyone going early, the Ulster-Scots Agency Juvenile band will be competing in the Novice Juvenile grade just after 11am. This group of young pipers and drummers are coming along very well and are well worth a listen.

The drum majors competitions will no doubt yield a lot of silverware today with many local competitors favourite to take top honours.

Good luck to all the bands, drum majors and adjudicators taking part today in what promises to be an excellent competition and a real showcase of piping and drumming talent.

Entry to the UK Championships is available through Stoney Road, Dundonald, with ample parking available on site.

The next local competition is the Craigavon & District Championships will take place next Saturday at Lurgan Park.

A set of bagpipes is the prize on offer in a draw with all the proceeds going to the NI Children’s Hospice. Tickets will be sold on the day, however they can also be purchased online through the following method. Go to www.justgiving.com/nichildrenshospice and Click on ‘Donate’. Make a donation in your chosen amount. Once you receive the email confirming your donation, forward it to mervynherron@hotmail.com and he will enter a single raffle ticket into the draw which will take place at the finale for every £1 you donate.