Ballyclare Victoria Flute Band in 2006
When Robert McFarlane and James Simms formed Ballyclare Victoria Flute Band in late 1919 they never dreamed of the achievements that they band was to secure in the world of part music flute bands. In the early years ‘McFarlane’s Band’ as it was known locally, having been taught some simple marches, took part in local parades and outings such as Sunday School picnics and Mill sports days.
This unambitious role of community band continued until 1931 when some of the younger members, keen to engage in competitive playing, decided the band should join the North of Ireland Bands’ Association.
Ballyclare Victoria Flute Band in the 1930s
On thier acceptance into the Association, the band took on board a new conductor, Robert Meharg, and under his baton, scored minor successes in the Junior Second Grade and 1st Grade Flute Sections of the N.I.B.A. contests. Not until 1950, after three unsuccessful years in the Intermediate Grade, did the band, under the direction of Harry Gillespie, finally reach the Senior Flute Section. By this time a fierce rivalry had been established with a local band from the village of Ballyeaston and many of the now senior members of the band have fond memories of this period and some may consider it as being instrumental in establishing the competitive spirit which has served the band down the years.
In the 1970s, Ballyclare Victoria, with life-ling member Arthur Fleming now conducting, won every major honour open to flute bands. In 1983 Ballyclare equalled the record set by Ravenhill and in 1984 set the new record of 10 successive wins in the N.I.B.A. World Championship Section which still stands today.
The Victoria have recorded many other contest wins – 18 victories in the annual Own Choice Contest of the Flute Band League N.I. and first past the post in five consecutive starts in the Scottish Open Championships from 1972 and on a further three occasions since then.
The band is made up of members from all walks of life, professionals and tradesmen to schoolchildren. Another measure of the band’s success is that many members have been awarded commemorative medals by the Flute Band League/Association for fifty years unbroken service.
Apart from competitions, the band’s other work includes engagements such as concerts, leading the praise at church services, participating in traditional parades and taking part in various festivals both local and national. They have also made numerous radio broadcasts, recording a long playing record and tape and have appeared on television.
Ballyclare Victoria Flute Band playing at the Scottish Amateur Flute Band Association Contest in 1994
Following Arthur Fleming’s retirement in 1989 the band underwent a period of reconstruction under conductor Colin Irvine, culminating in winning the World Championship trophy in 1995 again in 2004 and 2006 under the baton of Caroline Watson.