The Warpipers of sweet Drumcrow and old Killann

By Brendan Murray

“How I long for sweet old songs
That were sung in each abode,
Or the pipers tune by the ligh of the moon
As they marched down the old bye road,
Or to pitch and toss at old Cloggy
When the sun is sinking low,
Ah! Life was gay in those olden days
Around lovely sweet Drumcrow”
Bernard Donohue

Here Come the Drumcrows -
Clear the Way

You never know what’s going to come around the corner, especially, if you are just three years old as I was on that sunny day in May, 1937 as I sat on the edge of the pavement outside Barney Reilly’s shop in Gowna. I was completely absorbed in examining discarded coloured sweet wrappings trapped on the grating at the edge of the pavement. The picture of the small dog on an empty Kerry Blue cigarette packet particularly fascinated me. My mind was so engrossed that I was unaware of people walking past and disappearing round Ned Brady’s corner,- opposite the signposts for Arva, and Ballinagh, and congregating along the street where Ellen Cleary’s sweet shop and Whites’ provision and drapery shops were situated. Suddenly, I was startled by three loud bangs from that direction.

Alarmed, I looked around; was it thunder? The street was deserted; I was a diminutive solitary figure in an empty street; the silence was eerie. I stood up ready to bolt for home when suddenly a big drum beat and loud music filled the air, the volume increasing; at that precise moment around Ned Brady’s corner marched a Pipers Band followed by the whole village. I bolted for home across the street, in the door and up the stairs to hide somewhere; my mother was at the bedroom window peeping through the lace curtains; I asked, “Who are they; why are they all dressed up like that?” “They’re the Drumcrows;” she replied and added, “They’re the Drumcrow Warpipers Band.”

We watched them march past; a whole parish of them, walking tall, proud and erect, like a phalanx of ancient Celts, clad in immaculate green tunics, tartan kilts and swinging blue shawls shoulder fastened by colourful Tara broaches, their silver buckled marching feet synchronised to the beat of Sean O’ Neill’s March banged out by their big drummer; our whole world was filled with the fighting swagger of marching war pipe music as the Drumcrow Warpipers Band paraded past.

Drumcrow Townland
Drumcrow is just a small townland in the parish of Kilmore on the outer perimeter area of Cornafean and convenient to the town of Ballinagh, also in the parish of Kilmore. Several parishes border each other here -the “bottom” of the town is in the parish of Ballintemple and out the Cavan road a short distance is Crosserlough parish.
a) The Collar of Gold, found by Tom Sheridan, Drumcrow, Corlismore, Cavan.

The following note dated 21st October, 1935, written by National School pupil, Jimmy Scott, Clinloskin, Cornafean, is filed in the Folklore Commission Library.
“There was a collar of gold found in Newtown bog about the year 1870. It was found by Tom Sheridan of Dromcrow who gave it to James Christy as it was in his bog he found it. It is now in the Museum in Dublin. I saw it last year. It is narrow piece of gold and a clip to fasten it at the back. Newtown bog is a half a mile from Crossdoney and two miles from Ballinagh. There are about two acres in it.”

b) Feis Breffni Winners – Sunday, 4th June, 1939.
Anglo Celt reported as follows-
“The Drumcrow Warpipers Band was awarded 86% and recommended for first prize. Mr. McGinley said he noticed a marked improvement in the playing, with nice balance between pipers and drummers; good tuning and beautiful round note, much fuller and more pleasing than last year; Great life and freedom in the rhythm of the dance tunes and chanter work splendid. He added that the Band deserved congratulations on their performance (Applause). In solo playing William Cassidy, Drumcrow was placed first with 85marks and H. Maguire, Corlismore second with 84marks.”

c) Fund Raising Concert—Anglo Celt advert. March1946
The Drumcrow Pipers Band.
The above presents the Ulster Gaelic Players
In My Wild Irish Rose in Cornafean Hall
On Sunday night 14/4/46.
A star spangled Variety Programme will support the Play.
Patrons assured of a night of nights.

d) Old Roads: Cavan Folklore commission Library-
The following comment was written on 27th June, 1938 by National School pupil, Eliza Collins-

“Drumcrow road is known as the old road. It is leading to Drumcarbin House; it also leads to Drumcarbin N. S. It is said to be over eighty years old. The roads are still used.”
Former member of the band, Sean Masterson, Annagh, Cornafean, still hale and hearty, recently told me that the roads are still there- narrow and tarred; the school was sold, it’s a dwelling house now and the old road went to Drumcarbin and the crossroads at the end where the Band practiced was in the parish of Ballintemple.

Sean continuing in anecdotal language, outlined the history of the Band- “That must have been the Band’s original colours you saw in 1937; at that time the uniform comprised a green tunic, deep brown/saffron kilt and blue shawl pinned on by Tara broaches, green boat shaped cap with blue streamers. Subsequently, we had black tunics trimmed with white, blue shawls and Glengarryton caps.

The shoe buckles in latter years, were made and chromed by a Johnny Sweetman from Sligo, in the Motor factory in Birmingham -Johnny was a member of the Birmingham Irish Band. The cap badge was a circular plate with a harp- an Irish penny chromed on it. The Band was originally founded in the 1920’s; it was revised in the 1930’s by the schoolmaster; his name was Connaghton.

The band was called Drumcrow maybe because five McGuire brothers from Drumcrow were leading men in it; their names were – Eddie, Tom, Jimmy, Harry and Bill; Bill died in his late teens. We had a hard task master, but a brilliant music teacher in Ballinagh man, Charlie Fitzpatrick, an army man as you can guess, and not very polite at times. He took it over in the 1930’s. When parading, he was the Sergeant Major; he’d walk in front, dressed to kill, good suit and studded walking stick. He set the music; he also set the music for The Birmingham Irish Band; the McGuires started it when they went over. When we were practicing, if some fellow was playing the practice chanter wrong he’d say “you are blowing f**king bubbles.” My first day playing was in Cavan, at the Diocesan Boy Scouts rally parading the Scouts to the Cathedral; Harry McGuire had gone to England; Charlie Fitzpatrick missed him in Ballinagh and said, “what about this Masterson guy—form a circle and lets play a selection- give him a chance. When we were finished, with a good crowd standing around, he said, “Good! You had very good playing but stand up to attention with your heals together; you had a spraddle on you like an auld woman.” I never or won’t ever forget it.”

In regard to our repertoire of tunes, we always led off with Sean O’Neill’s march, followed by Irish Man’s Toast; other favourites were Men of the West, Paddy O’Flaherty, Mc Clouds Reel, the Three Little Drummers, the Highlanders March, The 79’s Farewell, and The Baron Rocks of Aden.

Fund Raising:
In regard to funds, there was always a Concert in Ballinagh Hall on the first Sunday night in lent. Ballintemple troupe always did a new play on the occasion. We went round on bikes selling tickets at one shilling and two shillings and many houses wouldn’t have it till later. The Band kept people together. There was great comradeship, great local support. But as time went on and the economy began to slide, fellows emigrated and it became difficult to keep going; there was lack of recruits and of course we were getting older.—Our last day out was at opening of the Cornafean G.A.A. Park.”

The O’Rahilly Warpipers Killann Band
I was passing Tom Gray’s Shop on Shercock’s main street in the summer of 1947 when I spotted the blue and red hand written poster prominently displayed in the window. It informed the public that the O’ Rahilly Warpipers Killann Band, founded in 1917 was reforming and would march into Shercock on the following Sunday at 3pm. The band would play in the town, after which collections would be made for funds to outfit the band; all contributions would be very much appreciated. Highlights of the Band’s past achievements were noted.
I questioned my father about the band; “Daddy! I didn’t know that at one time there was a pipers’ band in Killann; when was that?” He was pensive for a while before he replied. “The band was there for a good while up to ten years ago, I’d say - up to 1938; they were very good; John Keenan was the mainstay- he plays now and again on the radio, and Hugh O’ Reilly was the Big Drummer, he was a champion drummer- you know Hugh; he brings the Creamery cans on the big shifter to Bailieboro Creamery every day; you’d see him leading the horse and shifter full of creamery cans turning down the Bailieboro road at Hoeys’ corner.
“You mean the man who comes up the Maudabawn road and walks alongside the big cart through Shercock and around Hoeys’ corner every day- the man with the cap and wellingtons with the tops turned down?”
“Yes” he replied, “the very man”.
“And he was a champion drummer?” I asked in astonishment.
“Yes he was and no doubt still is—with a bit of practice,” he added.
On the following Sunday, I sat on the window sill of Hoeys’ shop waiting for the band to arrive. Young lads were congregating there. I was expecting a marvellous spectacle; still vivid in my mind were pictures of the Drumcrow pipers clad in colourful uniforms turning Ned Brady’s corner and marching down Gowna main street nine years previously.

Someone shouted, “Here they come.” I heard three bangs on the big drum followed by the swinging lilting swirl of the warpipes. I jumped off the window sill and pushed forward for a better view. Up the main street they came, followers left and right of them. I peered hard trying to distinguish members of the band from their followers. As they passed I became aware of the cause of my problem—only one member, big John Keenan was fully dressed in kilts, tunic and shawl; the rest wore their ordinary clothes, some shabby looking. Champion drummer, Hugh O’ Reilly, flanked by two pikemen marched proudly in the centre banging out the beat on his big drum. They marched tall, with Banners flowing free, playing their old proud music with great rhythm and verve; they had pride in the sanctuaries of their hearts and souls, and were completely oblivious to their mob appearance as were their supporters and onlookers.
Years later, recalling the scene, I decided that pride , spirit and proud music was all they had; Cavan were doing well on the Football field; it helped to keep everyone going in hard times. Christ! At that time, we, the people of rural Ireland, had hit rock bottom.

Killann Townland: Killann is a large parish in the dioceses of Kilmore and incorporates the towns of Bailieboro and Shercock; the townland of Killann is situated midway between both towns and always had a vibrant and independently minded community with its own band and dramatic society and A.O.H community hall, (accidentally burned down in recent years) which was a great landmark for travellers.

a). Former Band member Michael O’Reilly, Annahern, Shercock, kettle drummer in the reformed band, recently recalled some of the Band’s historical highlights. Michael’s brother, Hugh, was the big Drummer and won several prizes in drumming competitions. Michael has in his possession a framed photograph of the Band taken in 1930 in Breffni Park when the Band led the parade of teams prior to the match between Cavan and Sligo. “The photograph was picked up in New York and given to me seven years ago” said Michael before continuing--

“The O’ Rahilly Warpipers Killann Band was founded in 1917 and dedicated to the O’ Rahilly. The uniform comprised saffron kilt, green tunic and green sash. On parade they carried two shields portraying, St. Patrick and St. Bridget. The main flag had a depiction of Myles O’Reilly (Myles the Slasher) defending the bridge of Finea on one side and Penal Days emblazoned on the other side. Also, pikes were carried by two young men, one each side of the big drummer. The Sergeant Major was Peter Reilly who walked in front and carried the staff with the big flag. Renowned piper, Big Michael Keenan, trained the band. Members were scattered over a wide area.

I often heard the older members of the Band tell of the old R.I.C visiting houses where they suspected the instruments were stored. The Band always paraded with the original banners.
The Band carried the original name until 1943 when we bought a new banner depicting Oliver Plunkett and changed the name of the Band. We continued until 1948 or 1949 but due to emigration and lack of funds, the Band ceased to function, despite repeated attempts to get it off the ground. We worked hard at fund raising- collections, torch light processions and ceilis.
b). A 1946 advertisement in The Anglo Celt reads as follows---

12th January, 1946.
Oliver Plunket Pipers Killann Band
Ceili in Parochial Hall Bailieboro
On Sunday Night.

c) Memorable Engagements:
1. June 1918, the band played in Ballyduff, near Virginia, at the famous General Election speech by Fr. Flanagan (Roscommon priest) for Sinn Fein Candidate, Sean Young, East Cavan; the speech was suppressed as he was critical of everything British.
2. 29th May, 1920 at the funeral of Michael Shorten who was shot by the Black and Tans and to whom a monument is erected at Crossdoney.
3. July, 1929 in Phoenix Park at the Centenary Celebrations of Catholic Emancipation.
4 .1949-Eoghan Roe O’ Neill Memorial Celebrations in Cavan’s old Franciscan Abbey; a hugh crowd attended, the biggest seen in Cavan up to then.
5. Torchlight Procession, 1945. The following report is from The Anglo Celt, November10, 1945.-

“ On Wednesday night of last week the torchlight procession organised by Killann Oliver Plunket Pipers Band, in memory of the Manchester Martyrs and all who died for Ireland, took place from Cornalara Cross, the Band striking up “The Dawning of the Day,” as the large procession, composed of various shades of political thought , started off to the church. As befitted the occasion, the National Flag replaced the Standard usually carried by the band, and the Guard of Honour was two pikemen, changed at intervals along the route. A large crowd awaited the arrival of the procession at the church, where prayers were said for the repose of the souls for those who had made the supreme sacrifice and for the deceased friends and relatives of all present. The band then gave selections, after which “Faith of our Fathers” and the National Anthem were played on the pipes by Michael O’ Cianain. A word of praise is due to Mr. John Dermott, Chief Marshal of the parade and an untiring worker of the band. The procession was most successful and very picturesque.

The Band—at a meeting of the band the next night the people of the district were complemented on turning out for the procession in such large numbers. Thanks were noted to Mr. P.Smith, T.D., and Senator D. McCabe for their generous subscriptions of £1 each. House to house collectors had their task made easy by the enthusiasm of subscribers. The Shercock collection is still proceeding and is as good as anywhere else, there being only two refusals. Messrs. D. McCullough, Dublin was thanked for his promptness, which made the procession possible. Band practices two nights weekly- Sec.”

“Great to recall the past” said Michael O’ Reilly.
But recollections must have a present and future perspective; hopefully, Michael’s and Sean Masterson’s recollections will encourage the youth of Drumcrow and Killann to Fall in and Strike up the Band.