St. Laurence O’Toole

St. Laurence O’Toole

- Pipe Band
"The band's philosophy is to compete at the highest level. To do so, we require drums that can deliver that little bit extra. For us, there is only once choice, Premier."

In 1910 a meeting was organised by the St. Laurence O’Toole Gaelic Athletic Association Club in the CBS school,Seville Place,Dublin.The main mover in forming the band was Frank Cahill.

Frank was for many years an Alderman of Dublin Corporation,and later a member of the new Irish Parliament (Dáil Éireann).Amongst those present at the meeting were Pádraig Pearse, Thomas Clarke, Sean McDermott, Arthur Griffith, Douglas Hyde (later to become the first President of Ireland),and the famous Irish playwright, Seán O’Casey .The first Secretary of the band was Seán O’Casey.The first President of the band was Thomas Clarke.Casey acted in many plays staged by the St.Laurence O’TooleDramatic Society to raise money for the band. Michael Colgan (later a Senator) was the first Pipe Major.

In 1918,the HQ of the band in 100 Seville Place,Dublin were acquired by the band.

During the Irish War of Independence 1918-1922,the HQ was attacked by the military on numerous occasions. Furnishings,fireplaces,etc. were ripped out and thrown out into the street.

During the Great Strike of 1913 in Dublin (wherein the Irish Trade Union movement had its origins) the band was set upon by mounted police in Lombard Street while leading a contingent of workers on a protest rally to Liberty Hall (Union HQ). Some of the band members were injured and their instruments smashed.

The band took part at the funerals of many of the leaders of the nationalist movement of the time including Thomas Ashe, O’Donovan Rossa, Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins…..the man who is credited with winning the War of Independence and with signing the Treaty which established the then Irish Free State .

Following the War of Independence and the subsequent Civil War,the band ceased to have any political affiliations.

The St. Laurence O’Toole band was the first band to broadcast from the newly formed Radio Éireann in the 1930’s when the station was known as 2 R.N. and one of the earliest Pipe Bands to ever broadcast in Scotland, this was when the band first visited the Cowal Games in Dunoon in 1925. A concert was held in conjunction with the games and was broadcast on the B.B.C. Scottish Programme.

The St. Laurence O’Toole were also the first Irish band ever to visit England and America.On the formation of the IPBA in the 1930’s,the O’Toole’s were one of the first bands to join and have been an integral part of that organisation ever since.The St.Laurence O’Toole have taken part in many contests in Ireland and Scotland and at one time or another have won every major award for Piping and Drumming in Ireland. In 1958,the band won the All Ireland Senior Championships and in doing so also won the Open Drumming prize..The band was also successful in Scotland taking two first prizes the same year.

The Pipe Major of the band at that time was John Duggan and the Drum Sergeant was Frank Saunders , Snr.Other officials included James Fitzsimons,Johnny MacDonnell,Mick Lawless, Paddy MacDonnell,Frank Burns,Robert Kavanagh,Charles Stokes,Jimmy Fleming and Patrick Brady.Following the heady days of the 1950’s the band began an unfortunate downward slide.Several members fell by the wayside due to commitments to the army and Pipe Major John Duggan resigned in 1967.

There was a further decline in membership and the band was not in a position to take part in competition .No new Pipe Major was appointed for some time but whenever a public engagement was undertaken,the late Tommy Tully acted as Pipe Major.Eventually,Tommy was elected as Pipe Major. Things got to such a dire state,however,at one stage that there were only four active members of the band left – Charlie Stokes,Seamus Casey, Tommy Tully,and Peter O’Rourke.These four men decided to make one last effort at reviving the band.

Seamus Casey brought his sons Eamonn and Dominic down to learn the pipes (Dominic later changed to the drums and was drum sergeant in the band for many years).Tommy Tully brought along his sons Terry (the legendary Pipe Major of the band and top class soloist) and Patrick.

New blood coming into the band gave a renewed interest to some of the older members and the band began to appear once again at contests.During the period of decline the band had been regraded to Grade 3.

In 1974,the band won the All Ireland in Grade 3 and were subsequently up-graded to Grade 2.

Tommy Tully gradually gave over the reins to his son Terry.At first,Terry just performed the role of band tuner while his father still called the shots.Eventually,Terry was to assume full control and bring the band on to become the top outfit in the Republic of Ireland. Sadly,Tommy Tully died in April 1984.Tommy was well known in the Pipe Band world as a ‘character’ and enlivened many an IPBA meeting with his observations and comments.In the introduction to his first book of tunes,Terry Tully cites his father Tommy as having been the major influence on his playing career. A great tribute indeed to a great stalwart of the Pipe Band scene in Ireland.Seamus Casey also died in 1984. Seamus,despite his years, continued to attend at band practices right up to the week before he died.

The pipers and drummers in the St. Laurence O’Toole didn’t pick their dedication up off the ground,as they say here.The band celebrated its 75thAnniversary in 1985 and were to finish that year as Champion of Champions in Grade 2 in the IPBA.The trophy presented was,rather aptly,the Tommy Tully Memorial Trophy.

About this time,both Terry Tully and Ronan Maguire began to feature in solo contests.To date they have won several All Ireland Senior Solo Championships between them and many other competitions too numerous to mention here.1985 saw the band beginning to travel up North again for some ‘real’ competition and gradually began to feature in the prize lists.

In 1986,John Keogh took over as Drum Sergeant from Dominic Casey who had done sterling work up to that point.The band took 6th prize at the European Championship in Stranraer that year and played all the way back to the Ferryport, up into the ferry and all the way home.The improvement continued in 1987.The band took prizes in 17 out of 17 contests and finished 2nd in the World Championships in Glasgow.The band won thirteen out of fifteen contests outright including the Leinster,Ulster,All Ireland and Scottish Championships. The band also finished 3rd at the Cowal Championships in Dunoon.One placing higher in Dunoon that year would have seen O’Toole’s as Champion of Champions in Grade 2 in Scotland.Has any one ever explained why one piping judge had the pipe corps 1st while the other piping judge had them 17th out of 22 bands.

In 1988, the band were again placed second at the Worlds and were subsequently upgraded to Grade 1.

1989 saw the band win its first Grade 1 contest,at Moira,beating Field Marshal Montgomery into second place – this was also the bands first outing in Grade 1.

The band were narrowly beaten into second place at the All Ireland that year also,as the Moira result was reversed – the contest was recorded by Lismor Records and the album is now a collectors item.

In 1991,the St. Laurence O’Toole won the coveted Ulster Championships becoming the first band from the Republic of Ireland ever to do so and also take the Grade One event at the Pitlochry Games in Scotland.

Recognising the quality of their musical standard,the Irish government invited O’Toole’s to the World Expo ’92 in Seville,Spain along with such groups as The Chieftains.1992 also saw the band gain a 4th prize at the Cowal Championships in Dunoon.

O’Toole’s suffer from the same problem as many Irish bands – lack of players to compete at the highest level. The IPBA only has 50-60 pipe bands spread over 26 counties ( i.e. approx. 24,000 square miles).Players in O’Toole’s sometimes have to make round trips of 200 miles plus to practice,at their own expense. This is a logistics problem that is not easily solved.

The band have regularly been in the prize list in Ireland but Scotland has been a tougher nut to crack – until 2002.This had been the band best season to date – with prizes gained at the All Ireland,European and British Championships and a very credible seventh at the World Championships (just outside the prize list).

The pipe corps have gone from strength to strength and the drum corp,now led by Stephen Creighton,are a real contender for major honours– they took the premier drumming prize at the All Ireland and became the first Republic of Ireland band since 1966 to do so.

The 2003 season was pretty impressive too – with prizes gained at three of the major championships in Scotland.After a shaky start at the first major (Dumbarton), the band when on to gain placings at the British , Cowal and European Championships – three 5th’s in all.Narrowly lost out on the All Ireland title once again to the Field Marshal Montgomery.The band won the medley, best bass and tenor and also the drum corp retained their crown from the previous season.The winner on the day being decided on MSRpiping preference as both bands were tied on overall points.The band also finished up 9th overall at the World Championships, winning the morning qualifying round with ease.

With a little more luck on the day the band could have finished in the overall prizes as they were 6th in the MSR in the final but too far down in the medley. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be……

More great strides were made in 2004.The band for the first time in its history gaining prizes in all five major championships.Beginning with a 4thprize at the Scottish Championships in Dumbarton. At the British Championship in Turiff the band moved up another notch in the pecking order……taking 3rd.

Next up was the European Championships in Lisburn, and again the band went one better………..2nd. Could the ultimate be achieved at the next major, the Worlds……????.Not quite, but a very credible 6th prize was gained and the celebrations continued long into the night(and next morning !!). The band finished off the season at the Cowal Championships in Dunoon with a 3rd prize.

Next up, the All Ireland Solo Championships and again this proved very successful for the band players. Alen Tully and Stephen Creighton took both Senior Piping and Drumming. Stewart MacLeod took the Junior Piping and Conor Sherry finished joint 2nd in the Intermediate Drumming. A very satisying season indeed.

The most notable achievement in 2006 was the drum corp winning the World Drumming Championships in Glasgow and also taking the Bass & Tenor Section title.The 2005, 2006 and 2007 seasons, saw the band maintaining it position as one of the World’s best pipe band’s.2005 was the year that the band recorded it’s first album – live at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall in August – it can be purchased direct from the band.The 2007 season saw the band winning it’s first Grade One All-Ireland Championships since 1952 – a title which was also retained in 2008.Another highlight of the 2007 season was the band’s invitation to perform our “Dawning of thd Day” concert at the Carnegie Music Hall,Pittsburgh.

It’s 2008 that will go down in the band’s history as it’s defining moment – it’s entry into the “big time”. Winning the Scottish and British Championships, runner-up in the European and Cowal Championships and 5th overall at the World Championships.This run of results saw the band crowned Grade One Champion of Champions (Supreme Champions) for the 2008 season – the first non RSPBA band ever to achieve the feat and the first new name on the trophy since 1960.

2009 saw the band maintain its position at the top of Grade One, with solid results in all the major championships……runner up at the Scottish,European and Cowal Championships, plus the band’s highest placing to date at the World Championships – 3rd.The drum corp also had a fantastic season with wins in the Scottish, European and All-Ireland Championships.The band also returned to the concert stage for the Pre-World’s concert at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall – a complete sellout – recorded for posterity and available as both CD and DVD.As part of the celebrations for the 100th anniversary, we put together a history book for future generations plus a calendar & collage poster – each will, in time, become collectors items.To pay tribute to all those who have brought the band to where it is today, a celebratory dinner took place for past and present members in March………. and the party went on for THREE DAYS !

The 2010 season started well with the band winning the European and All-Ireland Championships, but it also became historic for another reason – it saw the band achieve what is the pinnacle for pipe band’s, winning the Grade One World Championship. The drum corp also achieved the top prize in all three championships.

At the end of the 2013 season,and after 30 years as Pipe Major,Terry handed over the reigns to his son,Alen,who has has more than hit the ground running. In his first season,2014,he led the band to three successive third placings in the British,UK and Scottish Championships. Won his first All Ireland Championships and finished a very credible 3rd at the World Championships.

The 2015 season continued in he same vein,although this time the band was to win it’s first major championships since 2010 – The Scottish Championships – and almost taking the big one in August,but had to settle for second overall. The drum corps though had another successful campaign, winning their third World Championships and also winning the Champion of Champions for the second year running.

The St. Laurence O’Toole repertoire includes a large selection of Irish traditional tunes and also tunes composed by our own members – (Terry,Dave Rickard ,Tim Farrelly,Gerry Hanlon, Alen Tully and Richard Magowan,to name but a few) and along with such bands as the 78thFraser Highlanders from Toronto have done much to have Irish jigs,reels and hornpipes accepted as standard in pipe band selections. Terry has also proven to be quite a composer,with top bands around the world playing his tunes and he has published four books – so far.

Not bad going for a band that started life in a small hall in Dublin City Centre – way back in 1910.