Ballygowan Flute Band

Ballygown Flute Band dated around 1880

Ballygowan Flute Band was formed during 1876 by a group of local young men, with George McVeigh, one of the founder members, taking responsibility of teaching and getting the band up and running. By 1900 the band purchased a piece of land at the edge of a quarry hole, and so the first half of the band hall was built and then completed during 1935.

The first conductor, from outside the members, was a gentleman from Newtownards named Alec Belshaw, around 1902. The band rehearsed on Saturday night, so Mr. Belshaw got a train from Newtownards to Comber, then changed to a train from Comber to Ballygowan. With rehearsal completed, he walked two and a half miles to the ‘Hill Top’ farm of the late Mr. Harry Carse, and stayed overnight, and then walked home to Newtownards on Sunday, a further six and a half miles! The late Sam Haliday from the Ravenhill Road was the next conductor, but he was more fortunate, as he could get the train from Belfast, stay overnight in Ballygowan, and then get the return train on Sunday.

During the 1920s, a young family by the name of Douglas had joined Ballygowan Flute Band, and these young boys as they were then, were to transform the band by their ability as musicians, and enthusiasm over the next sixty or more years. The late Harry Gillespie has been appointed as Band Master and with Richard (Dick) – piccolo, George – melody, Robert – bass and Jim Douglas – drum, Mr Gillespie had a foundation to build a band around.

Ballygowan Flute Band in the 1960s

Ballygowan band is very much family orientated, with many sons and now even daughters following father, once in there is no getting out. One member was heard to say that if you left, or failed to attend practice, the water to your home was cut off. This is why over the years no less that 15 members have received the 50 years service medal from the Flute Band League, (Over 650 years service and counting). During 1957, the late Richard Douglas (Dick to his legion of friends) became conductor, and two years later won the march contest at the Oval Football Ground with 98 points out of 100. The march played being ‘Allied Banners’.

The real success commenced as runners up in the World Championship to Ballyclare in both 1988 and 1989. At the Flute Band League Contest at Bangor 24th February 1990 Ballygowan won the Senior Grade, Mr Houston being the conductor. That year saw Ballygowan’s first success in the N.I.B.A. World Championship contest, with Caroline Weir (now Watson) in charge of the baton. Further success was to follow winning the World Championship again in 1992, 1993, 1996, 1999, 2000. 2005, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013. 2014, 2017, and 2018.

Indeed the band members were not to know in 1988 that they had started a thirty-one year unbroken series of BBC radio broadcasts as a result of performances at the world championship, which included twelve firsts and fourteen runner-up spots.

The story in the Flute Band Association’s Annual Own Choice Competition was much the same, and that first 1990 success was one of 7 wins in the 1990s with a further 13 wins since and six runners-up spots.

The year 1996 (the 120th anniversary of the formation) was the most successful, as every conceivable prize throughout the year at each and every competition was won by Ballygowan. Playing, Entertainment, Percussion and Interpretation (where relevant) were all awarded to the band in each of the individual competitions. Dr. Windsor Hylands was the musical director during this most successful period.

For more information visit: www.ballygowanfluteband.com

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