One of Galway’s most enduring, most enjoyable, and most enjoyed institutions is the community based musical group, St Patrick’s Brass Band. The band was founded in Forster Street in 1896 and they have been entertaining Galwegians since.
The founders were Paddy Walsh, the station master, Michael Spelman of Moon’s staff, and Peter Rabbitt, a Forster Street publican and grocer. They were a fife and drum band originally; they took the name from the parish in which they were founded; their first band room was in Gannon’s sitting room in Forster Street and the first bandmaster was Mick Browne. Band members were drawn from all walks of life including the Army. Sergeant Patsy Glennon (who succeeded Mr Browne as bandmaster ) inspired a change in 1908 when brass instruments were introduced. They were purchased in London thanks to fundraising efforts by friends of the band. In 1912, second hand uniforms were bought in Moons as only the caps remained from the old fife and drum band uniforms. At this stage there were 36 playing members.
With the help of volunteer workers, they built a simple band room on the present site in Frenchville Lane. Tiles for the floor were brought across from the disused isolation hospital beside the harbour. Because of curfews and various laws against congregating during the War of Independence and the Civil War, there was a lull in the band’s activities and membership began to decline, but they always seemed to train enough young members to keep the band going. On February 18 1930, the band room was purchased from the Erasmus Smith Trustees. A weak membership situation was worsened by World War II, and in the 1950s a steady depletion of numbers due to emigration brought band activity to a halt for a time.
In September 1959, a new committee was formed with the aim of reviving the band. Twenty five members joined and the band reappeared on St Patrick’s Day 1961 to a warm welcome. Old instruments were repaired and reconditioned and new ones purchased, the band premises were extended and new uniforms with a crest designed by Fr George Quinn, were purchased.
Our photograph today shows Pat O’Sullivan, his wife Myra, their young son Stephen, with Tommy Joyce, Tom Browne, and Martin Mannion. It was taken outside the old band room in March 1987 on the day they closed it down. Happily, they replaced it with the current structure, a fine building which is used by a number of musical groups from the city and which has become a major musical hub. It was opened by Bishop Eamonn Casey in March 1988.
Obviously the list is a long one but some of those associated with the band down the years are John F King, Murty Rabbitt, Paddy Hennigan, Tom Feeney, Mickey Spelman, Michael Mitchell, Tommy Joyce, Peter Rabbitt, and Pat O’Sullivan. Many hundreds of people have learned to play musical instruments in the band room over the years and countless thousands have been entertained.
On Saturday next, May 14, the band mark their 120th anniversary with a special concert in the Radisson Hotel with a number of guests including Marc Roberts, Don Stiffe, Bel Canto, and the Galway Choral Association. Tickets are only €10 and are available from the hotel or the band room. It sounds like a terrific Galway celebration and should not be missed.