William Dunwoody Senior

When, in 1916, at the age of eighteen, William Dunwoody, was discharged from the 39th Boys’ Brigade and hence from its associated band, he, along with two friends, decided to form an Old Boys’ Band. Although Pitt Street Mission Hall’s B.B. Company no longer existed, the 39th Old Boys’ Flute Band and its president, William Dunwoody Senior continued for some years.

Initially Billy was a piccolo player with the new band but was afterwards asked to conduct. Having had no previous experience in this field, and equipped only with some harmony lessons from his German music teacher Dr. Kieker, and a good measure of enthusiasm, he insisted that his early days as a conductor of the 39th were really a case of trial and error. This “trial and error” approach must have worked however, since the fledgling band carried off the N.I.B.A. Intermediate title in 1923, a feat of which Billy was proud since this meant that the trophy had finally been brought across the river to Ballymacarrett (the 39th chief rivals at the time were all Shankill Road Bands – Ulster Amateurs, Argyle Temperance and St. Michaels). A senior title had to wait until 1926 when the band won the “Oberon”.

The 39th started out using the B.B. Band as a “nursery” for players but membership was soon thrown open to outside flautists. One such was the teenaged James Galway. Since then, many fine players passed through the ranks of the 39th under the tutelage of William Senior, and then, on his retirement, of William Junior. Another pupil was Colin Fleming who is the principal flautist of the Ulster Orchestra.

Although Billy Dunwoody’s name and that of the 39th Old Boys are inextricably linked, he has also been responsible for the musical direction of other flute bands such as Comber Temperance and Ballykelly Flute Band. Every spare minute was spent conducting bands, arranging music and repairing instruments, so to say that Billy’s “hobby” was flute bands was very much an understatement. He saw the role of conductor as principally one of nurturing young talent and enthusiasm, for one he maintained, depends the future of any band.

His son, Billy Junior continued the role as conductor of the 39th for many years and was awarded the MBE for services to Music. His daughter Andrene and granddaughter Helen also played in the 39th Old Boys.

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