Seapatrick Flute Band celebrates 140 years

SEAPATRICK Flute Band will be celebrating their 140th anniversary this year and to celebrate the Leader has taken a look back at their history.

How or why Seapatrick Flute Band came to be formed is lost in the annals of history, however, there is record of the band being in existence in 1873 and in those early days rehearsals were held outdoors. The location of these rehearsals, between Seapatrick and Weir’s Row was known locally as “The Sandhole”.

The band then moved between various local houses and eventually by the end of the First World War they were able to use the local schoolhouse (now the village church hall), where they have remained ever since.

The band started with simple single key wooden melody flutes, but in the early 1900s they changed to part flute music. The outbreak of war in 1914 saw many of the members serving King and country and, with the band depleted in members, it reverted back to melody only with most of the members then being young boys.

Once the war ended the band re-established itself as a part-music band and purchased some new flutes, introducing the piccolo into the band. These instruments remained in use in the band until 1979 when the band changed to their new silver flutes, in line with most other part-music flute bands at that time.

Shortly after the purchase of the new flutes the band changed their side drums from the original rope drums with skin heads to a set of Premier single snare side drums and a little later replaced their rope bass drum with a new Andante bass drum.

In 2010 the band were successful in obtaining funding from the ‘Instruments for Bands’ scheme run by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and this enabled them to upgrade their side drums and bass drum to the latest standard by purchasing Andante Military style drums. This funding also supported the purchase of a new piccolo and two new G Alto flutes.

Since its formation the role of band conductor was held within the band with Robert Martin and his son Herbie filling this role for close on 90 years between them, with Mr Samuel McCracken successfully filling this in the period in the interim period between father and son.

This role became more important after the Second World War when they began to participate in competition work. With Herbie Martin in charge the band continued to participate in competition work with both the NIBA championships and the Flute Band League contests regularly finishing in the top three placings and several occasions achieving the top spot.

Probably the best remembered is achieving first place, playing the arrangement ‘Alisma’ in the Flute Band League contest in its centenary year in 1973.

Over the years the band has been in demand for performances at various events and functions and has played at various fetes, concerts, social and sporting events. In 1961 the band had the distinction of being featured in a television programme and was filmed playing the march ‘Senior Service’ while parading around Seapatrick.

In 1998 the band completed 125 years in existence and was honoured by the local council with a civic reception in the council chambers. In recognition of this special honour the band presented the council with one of its original flutes, specially mounted and in return the then chairman of the council, Councillor Joan Baird, presented them with a special commemorative plaque.

When the band was originally formed in 1873 most of its members were local mill workers, however, with the closure of the mill in early 1960s members came to be drawn from a wider area.

Longevity has been a hallmark of band membership with many members achieving in excess of 50 years service and some upwards on 70 years active service and Seapatrick is one of the most frequent band names to appear on the South West Down Band Association Roll of Honour for long service.

In more recent times many of the young people who came through the learner classes of the band had greater opportunities in education and the band now lists doctors, legal experts, university lecturers, engineers, teachers and other professionals among its past and current members.

This, however, puts its own strain on the band in that many of these young people have positions of responsibility far away from Seapatrick and are no longer able to play with the band on its various engagements. This means that the band needs a continuous flow of new members and each September a series of learner and improver classes are held to help people (young or not so young) master the skill of flute playing.

Over the years this turnover of members has also required additional equipment needing to be supplied and, in preparation for its 140th anniversary, the band would like to get hold of any items of equipment that may still be in the possession of former members or their families.

New members would also be particularly welcome, irrespective of skills levels, and the next series of flute and drum learner or improver classes are due to start with initial registration on September 10 in St Patrick’s Hall, Seapatrick - the old village schoolhouse - further information is available from any band member.