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Newry has a long tradition of music with a varied history of local bands, both past and present. Three bands that achieved national success were St. Joseph’s Brass and Reed Band, the Hunter Moore Flute Band, and St. Catherine’s Concert Band. 

St. Joseph’s was established around 1877. One of their earliest conductors was Michael Maguill, who was also a conductor of the Holy Family Brass and Reed Band. Another conductor who was held in high regard was Terence Ruddy who was in charge of the band when they won the coveted British Band Championship at Belle Vue, Manchester in 1923. This was a tremendous achievement for the band and they were greeted as heroes on their return to Newry. In June 1926, St. Joseph’s Band were broadcast on Dublin’s first radio station, 2RN, and in the early 1940s, under the direction of Pat Campbell, the band broadcast on British Radio on a programme called ‘Newry on the Air’. 

The Hunter Moore Memorial Flute Band, photographed at Moore Lodge after winning the prestigious All-Ireland Junior Flute Band Championship in September 1926 Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
The Hunter Moore Memorial Flute Band, photographed at Moore Lodge after winning the prestigious All-Ireland Junior Flute Band Championship in September 1926 Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

Originally called the Sheepbridge Flute Band, the Hunter Moore Memorial Flute Band was established around 1884 by a farmer and former soldier, Joseph Ferris, who in the early days allowed the band to use his barn in Upper Damolly to practice. In 1923 the band was renamed in honour of a local solicitor and keen sportsman, J. Hunter Moore of Moore Lodge, Newry who died in that year.  Hunter Moore had given the band a permanent home in 1908 when he granted the use of a single storey cottage on the Belfast Road, Newry. In 1926 the band gained its first major victory taking the All-Ireland Junior Flute Championship. In 1950 they won the All Ireland Band Championship and in 1955 the band won the ‘Hymn Tune’ Section in the Senior World Championship event and came third in the major World Championship itself.  The band, in 1974, recruited its first female member, Paula McGrath, a keen flautist who played with the band for over a decade. 

St. Joseph’s Brass and Reed Band, c.1928 Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
St. Joseph’s Brass and Reed Band, c.1928 Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

St. Catherine’s Band was established in 1922 by W. Byrne, P. Keenan, C. Devine, M. Griffith, J. Hughes and Gene Casey. The band was named after St. Catherine’s Dominican Church. In 1923 St Catherine’s became members of the Northern Ireland Band’s Association and, in 1924, achieved second place in a contest in the Y.M.C.A. Hall in Belfast. Under the directorship of William Byrne many other successes followed including 1st Prize at the Tailteann Games, Dublin in 1924 and 1932 and other major prizes in Belfast and Portadown. In the late 1970s/early 1980s Luke Burke became musical director and the band won the Portadown Rose Bowl in 1980-1981, 1st place in the 1980 All Ireland Championships and the All Ireland Senior and Own Choice in Drogheda in 1986. In 1976 Deborah Hughes became the first female member of the band, and in 1997 the percentage of women in the band was 50%. In the early days members of the band were taught to play their instruments by more experienced members. As the years passed this trend was to change as most of the junior members received their tuition at school. In 1977 a junior band was formed. 

St. Catherine’s Brass and Reed Band, c.1923, photographed after their success at their first competition, which was held in the Y.M.C.A. Hall, Belfast. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
St. Catherine’s Brass and Reed Band, c.1923, photographed after their success at their first competition, which was held in the Y.M.C.A. Hall, Belfast. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

While St. Joseph’s Band is no longer part of the music scene in Newry, Hunter Moore and St. Catherine’s continue to perform in the area.

Programme of music by St. Joseph’s Band to accompany a Sports Meeting organised by the Ancient Order of Hibernians at The Marshes, Newry, 4th September 1932 Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
Programme of music by St. Joseph’s Band to accompany a Sports Meeting organised by the Ancient Order of Hibernians at The Marshes, Newry, 4th September 1932 Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

Newry and Mourne Museum is temporarily closed.

by Ken Abraham and P. Bate

P. Bate was a Volunteer on Newry and Mourne Museum’s Performing Arts Project in 2016-2017. 

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