AS the Ennis Brass Band approaches its 50th year, they will open their doors to the public to welcome the next generation of hornists, writes Stuart Holly.
The Clare Echo sat down with three integral members of the historic band on Monday night at Ennis Community College, where they practice twice weekly to perfect their unique artform. Secretary Deirdre Coffey, Musical Director Mark Nutley and Band Master Bernard McAllister will, along with the band’s 32 members, open the green doors of the school next Monday to showcase their group to those curious to learn more, or even better, join up. Young and old are welcome to attend and are being encouraged to test out the instruments and ask any questions they might have.
Speaking to the trio, a strong narrative of community and family is imparted and there is arguably no better encapsulation of this than Band Master Bernard McAllister, who has spawned another eight McAllisters – seven of whom have worn the famous blue uniform of the Ennis Brass Band.
“My father was in the old band as well, so I picked it up from there,” begins Bernard. “There was a band in the ’50s which broke up for economic reasons. There was always bands in town but for some reason they couldn’t keep it together back then.” That was until 1971, when the Ennis Brass Band in its current guise was formed. Today, Bernard is the only musician from that formation to remain on the scene.
“Seán O’Shea, he was a councillor at the time, he was the man to get it going in 1971. Next year will be our 50th year. It was a hard slog in the beginning but eventually we got it going.”
Some 18 months after their first practice, the Ennis Brass Band had its first outing, marching through town for a Corpus Christi procession. “We thought we were great but if we heard it now, I suppose it would have been awful,” laughs Bernard.
SENSE OF COMMUNITY
These days, Ennis Brass Band members suit up for a number of occasions through the calendar year. St Patrick’s Day, Ennis Christmas Concert, Doonbeg Christmas Market, Parnell Street Halloween Festival, to name a few. This Friday, they will polish their instruments for the Ennis Food & Drinks Fleadh on Friday evening.
The band scene has also diversified from traditional brass band music (typically opera music) into the contemporary with the Ennis outfit tackling hits from Taylor Swift and Michael Bublé (and even Baby Shark was given an airing last Halloween to great fanfare). And at the core of any brass band making these decisions is its musical director. In 2017, Drogheda native Mark Nutley answered the call to fill the position. Mark, a member of the Defence Forces who lives in Athlone, travels to Ennis every Monday and Friday to preside over practice. A music graduate, Mark started out with the Drogheda Brass Band playing cornet, before stints with Dublin Concert Band and the Irish Film & Pops Orchestra. Responding to an ad on Facebook, Mark applied for the role of Musical Director in Ennis and is thriving in the role. “To be honest, the biggest thing that struck me when I came down was the sense of community and family. Everybody is so tight, and friendly to each other.
“I’ve walked in here and thrown some crazy ideas at them but they go with it and that’s the biggest reward. For Clonakilty (the South Of Ireland Band Championships) last year I said, ‘we’re not doing it with stands or chairs, we’re going to walk and move around’. They looked at me as if I was crazy but it worked and the adjudicator commented on how well it looked and sounded.”
Long-time member Deirdre Coffey continues, “It’s a very tight-knit group. My two best friends are in the band, I think it’s why so many of us have stayed for as long as we did, because this is where our friends are.
“Being in the Ennis Brass Band, it’s that sense of being part of a team. We all as kids have done sports, and this really feels like a team. You don’t have one shining star like you might in football or soccer, it’s all of us together making it what it is. It’s also that sense of satisfaction you get. Clonakilty is a prime example. Everyone here said they’ve never had as much fun as they did for May, June and July [practising for the event], because we weren’t in standard practice, we were moving, dancing, taking us out of our comfort zone but we absolutely loved it.”
Although the Ennis Brass Band has a healthy membership in the region of 32, Bernard explains that they are trying to establish a junior band, which is why the public are being invited to an open session next Monday. Currently, its members range in age from 10 up to Bernard’s vintage, however new recruits from age seven plus are being encouraged to join.
Deirdre says, “Visitors will get to see the different instruments, ask questions, talk to Mark, see what the band is about, try out the instruments. That’s what the evening is all about. Musical experience is not necessary.” Mark adds, “Everybody has to start somewhere, and we’d also love to welcome any former members who would like to come back.”
The Ennis Brass Band open day takes place on September 30. Their next outing is this Friday evening outside Ennis Gourmet Store as part of the Ennis Food & Drink Fleadh.