The Primatial City of Armagh once again this year concluded its March 17, celebrations with a massive display of Ulster marching bands.
The 2023 band season, that part of the year when over 600 marching bands take to the roads of towns, villages and hamlets across the Province, officially started on Thursday night in the Orchard County capital.
The annual procession is now in its 18th year, with the hosts as always Cormeen Rising Sons of William Flute.
It was a warm evening and spectators and bands alike began to come into the town from 6pm, with eventually large numbers gathering, particularly on the Mall and Barrack Street areas. Proceedings began at the stroke of 7pm, when the organisers surprised many by exiting the grounds of Armagh Orange Hall via a side entrance. Unbeknownst to most present they were revealing their smart new uniforms for the first time.
The doe-skin coloured jackets trimmed in steel blue with matching trousers, were positively remarked on by all who saw them. The work on the uniform had also been replicated elsewhere, and equally the band’s music, marching and discipline was of a high standard.
After a circuit of the short City centre procession route by the band, its members retrieved high visibility jackets and made their way to their designated positions to marshal what was to come. What followed turned out to be one the biggest marching music displays locally since well before the pandemic, with eventually an excellent total of 38 bands participating.
All six counties of Northern Ireland had bands on display, with predictably the Orchard County best represented given the Armagh area has more marching bands per head of population than anywhere else in the United Kingdom.
First away were Markethill’s Mullabrack Accordion, closely followed by more of the same genre including Pride of the Birches and John Hunter Mountnorris, this year celebrating their 70th anniversary.
The Stronge Memorial Accordion Lisnafeedy were in attendance for the first time and were highly appreciated by the crowds. Other visitors included the furthersest travelled on the night, North Fermanagh Young Defenders Kesh, Knoughloughrim Accordion proudly and competently representing South Londonderry and Belfast representatives including Pride of the Raven and South Belfast Protestant Boys.
What was most noticeable on the night was the number of bands who were significantly up in numbers or had further consolidated already strong units. Mavemacullen Accordion Tandragee have been very busy over the past twelve months, and their hard work is definitely paying off, with over 20 of the distinctive instruments on parade.
Downshire Guiding Star Banbridge, Kilcluney Volunteers, Drumderg Loyalists Keady, Portadown Defenders and Markethill Protestant Boys all had 60 or more members making their way through the City; however it was ‘home town’ outfit Armagh True Blues who took the largest band on display title, with 73 men on the march!
Speaking in the aftermath of the procession Cormeen spokesperson Quincey Dougan remarked that it had been an incredibly positive night, ‘the band is very happy about how most of the evening has went. The amount of bands and their irrefutable excellent deportment alongside the large number of spectators, was more than we had hoped for, and probably rivals some of our largest events over the past two decades.
To have very close to 2,000 active procession participants on the night really does emphasise the popularity of marching bands, and in particular their value to the area. It was encouraging to see so many tourists and foreign nationals enjoying the spectacle, and the PSNI ensured that the very few intent on unsavoury behaviour were curtailed’.
He did point out there were some downsides to the proceedings however, ‘There were issues regarding traffic control and subsequently arising what we believe to be quite serious health and safety concerns, while the lack of support from the Council and other statutory agencies continues to be of great disappointment. It is the bands intention to face these issues head on in the coming weeks’.