Br Bonaventure Ward, OFM, tells of his over 50 years with Fife and Drum Bands
When Br Bonaventure, a member of the Waterford fraternity, was joining the friars, his mother asked: “Are you prepared to give up your bike and your band?” Whatever about the bike, he has been involved with bands all through his Franciscan life.
I first joined the local Fife and Drum Band in my native town of Blackrock, Co. Dublin on the last Sunday of August 1957 on the invitation of the late Matt Mooney, the Bass Drummer and caretaker of the Band. It all seemed to happen by chance as I was out fishing with Matt and he happened to make a casual remark about how some of the lads in the band had let them down for an engagement. As a young lad of thirteen, I said that I would help out but I didn’t play any music. He said “we have a man who will teach you.”
A brief history of the band is as follows. It was originally founded in the late 1800’s and named St. Patrick’s Fife and Drum Band. Nobody alive today knows exactly the date but it continued until 1939 when many members joined the LDF and the Maritime Inscription in Dun Laoghaire, which had their own Fife and Drum band. I must add also, that some members joined the British Army and saw action in France – in fact I knew one of them personally, Tom (Dancy) Mooney who played Bb bass flute which is now in the museum in St. Mary’s Band room in Limerick.
Before 1939 there were three Fife and Drum Bands in the Borough of Dun Laoghaire, Blackrock, Kill of the Grange and Dun Laoghaire. As these bands were silent during the Emergency but they amalgamated in 1945 to form what was called the Borough Band, which was the one I joined in 1957. Most of the members were from Blackrock, so the band room was in Blackrock, in the Stoneyard in Georges Ave, about 200 yards from where I lived. Although I remember the band in the Stoneyard, I wasn’t in it – in fact I was never inside the band room there. In 1954 or 1955, the band room was demolished to make way for the new health-board clinic and for a while the band had to practice every Sunday morning in the Town hall itself until Dun-Laoghaire Corporation rented a room to them.
When I joined the band I was introduced to the bandmaster who taught the rudiments of music and the flute. The man in question was Jimmy Davenport who to us was a Dublin City man but came out to the Rock to conduct and teach the band every Sunday morning for 25 years, for free. The closest family connection was a first cousin of a first cousin of mine who was the Piccolo Player but was killed in a traffic accident in January1956, a year and a half before I joined .His name was Dickie Halpin and he was only 26. I still possess a D Piccolo I was given as a present by Matt Rooney in 1966 which belonged to Dickie and which he played in the “Harp and Shamrock” Ceili Band.
Conductor Jimmy Davenport or (Mr D as he was called) taught me the Scale of D in two octaves and how to play a Bb Flute. I also got help from the late Jack Mooney and Jack Eustace. At that time the band had over 30 members – the Conductor, 5 first flutes, 3 second flutes, 5 third flutes, 4 F flutes 2 E flat Basses, 3Bb basses, Eb piccolo, 4 slide-drums, 3 Cymbals, Triangle, tenor Drum and Staff Major. As this was not primarily a marching band, it gave recitals in local parks and on Dun Laoghaire Pier – all drummers played waltzes and selections as well as marches. The marching engagements were very few in the last twenty years of the Borough Band, which gave its last public performance in Sorrento Park, Dalkey in 1977 (with help from Wexford) and closed down in 1982..
The Borough band didn’t take part in any of the contests which were organised by the late Pat French of Wexford, beginning in 1959 but loaned flute players to the O’Connell Band for the contest in Wexford in 1960. The test piece in that contest was “Minstrel Echoes” and the March for the best Corps of Drums was “Controversy” and the O’Connell Band won both events. Incidentally the O’Connell Band closed down completely in 1969. The Borough was always called the Rock band because it was based in Blackrock and sometimes called “Mooney’s Band” because of the large numbers of members from the Mooney family – all twelve of them at that time! A not so complimentary nickname locally was the “Spit and Blow” Band.
Wexford 1982: playing for Donncha Ó Dulaing, RTE Radio
Joining the Franciscans
After three years in the local band, I left home to join the Franciscans in Killarney in 1960. The Friars allowed me to bring the Bb with me so I never lost the band connection and the love for music, especially the marches. I was away from the band for three years and on my first holiday home in 1963, I played with the band on the Sunday. It was the last time I was to play under my old teacher Jimmy Davenport as I then went to Rome for three years and when I came back in 1966, he had retired through ill health, although he lived until 1974.
I moved to Galway in 1966 and after a year or so there got involved with the Dockers Fife and Drum Band. Although they were from a slightly different tradition to what I was used to as they played by ear and only used Bb flutes. They did make an effort to learn reading music afterwards but I don’t think it was a success.
My appointment to Wexford Friary in 1972 which was supposedly for three months but fortunately that 3 months turned out to be 21 years! Knowing from the time I played with O’Connell Band in the contest in 1960 that in Wexford that there was a Fife and Drum band there called St. Patrick’s and within a week I made contact and asked could I play with them. I’m sure when they saw I could play “Galanthia” of by heart, they knew I was in their line of business. The late Pat French, who was Chairman of the Band at that time, made me very welcome. Playing with Wexford was the fourth Band in my career. Pat was the brainchild of the revival for the band contests after a gap of nearly 30 years. He knew Bobby Carroll of the O’Connell Band but didn’t know any of the Blackrock Band, as they never took part in contests. Before I came to Wexford, I saw a photograph of the Wexford Band in the Evening Herald, which said the 77 year old band might have to pack up owing to lack of funds. A fund-raising drive called “Save the Boys Band” and the church gate collections begun in May 1973, got the band over that crisis,
In November 1973 the Wexford band celebrated the 80th anniversary of their foundation. Having played with the band for six years and having helped teach new members, I was asked by Pat French to conduct the band. In 1975 the old band room in Foundry Lane where the band had played for 50 years became uninhabitable and I was fortunate to get the use of a room for them for the next 7 years until the band were able to build their own room which is their present location, In that same year, 1975, the oldest member of the band, Jimmy Roche (popularly known as Grand-dad) died. He had been a member for over 75 years. The following year in 1976, his fellow comrade Jimmy Phillips died. He had been a member for over 60 years and a conductor for 30. With the death of these two men the last link with the original Band of 1893 and known as St Brigid’s was severed.
The year 1978 brought many young boys into the band but some only stayed for a short time while others remained longer. However in 1981 a huge break with tradition occurred when a young girl joined the band – the first in Wexford town! The following year two more girls joined and it wonderful that these three girls are still playing members of the band 30 years later. I was privileged to initiate Margaret Beary, Regina Kehoe and Attracta Redmond into the traditions and music of the Fife and Drum and many more that came after them.
During these years I conducted the Wexford band in many contests. In 1985 we won, in 1986 we came second. In 1988, 2nd and in 1993 we were 1st. In 1986, the late Aidan Murphy of Castlebridge and a member of St. Patrick’s Band restarted the Castlebridge Band, which had closed down in the 1960’s. I helped him at the start and played with them afterward whenever I could. They were the 5th Fife and Drum band I had played with during my lifetime. The saddest year for the Band was in 1988 when on the 25th August the Chairman and lead side-drummer, Bill Kehoe, collapsed and died while marching with the band. I was there on that very sad occasion.
1985: Bonaventure with the St Mary’s Cup,
won by St Patrick’s Band, Wexford
On the Move
My life once more changed with my move from Wexford to Bray in 1993 and so ended my time as Conductor of the Wexford band. During my time in Bray, I was fortunate to be able to get to Wexford every week on a Thursday night to play with the band. As this article is about my 50 years with Fife and Drum bands, I will move on to Limerick where I was sent in 1996 but before I do, just for the record – I have never missed a St. Patrick’s Day parade in Wexford since 1973 until the present!
Arriving in Limerick in 1996, I began to play with St Mary’s Fife and Drum Band which I had visited since 1975. Now I’m starting to play with the sixth band in my lifetime. At the turn of the century, St. Mary’s Band admitted girls and I was asked by Jack McGrath, Band President if I would be willing to help with teaching them and I gladly agreed. During this time I was asked by a woman from Ballynanty, Mrs McCarthy, if I would train a band for her. It was an all-girls band and while it never marched, it did play in concert in the now closed Franciscan Church in Henry Street and in the Unitas Hall in Thomondgate. After 12 years in Limerick, the Friary there closed in June 2008 and I was then fortunate to move to Waterford where I was welcomed by the Thomas Francis Meagher Fife and Drum Band on the Lower yellow Road. Like Limerick, I had contact with the Waterford Band since 1974. Being based in Waterford at the moment, I am close enough to Wexford and able to travel there for the band practices twice monthly.
As I said previously, many changes took place in the Wexford Band after my sojourn there but unfortunately none of them seemed to last, A few years ago I was again asked if I would help to get the Band playing again for St. Patrick’s Day and I agreed if some of the former members came back and they did. That is how the band life stands for me at this moment. I have also played with the Dingle Band on a few occasions and I have also visited and played with the Ballycallen Fife and Drum Band in Co. Kilkenny.
In conclusion, may I say that on joining the Franciscan Order I thought I would never play with a Band again. My late mother said to me, “Are you prepared to give up your bike and your band?” but God has rewarded me a thousand fold. The late Jack Eustace, one of my earliest teachers used to say “all sports one has to give up when one gets on but you can play music until the beard grows down to your toes”. With that I will conclude with Deo Gratias. Thanks be to God for 53 happy band years.