The St. Laurence O'Toole Pipe Band , Dublin

- A Brief History

Pipe Major: Terry Tully

Pipe Sergeant:Ronan Maguire

Drum Sergeant: Dean Hall

The St. Laurence O'Toole Pipe Band can be contacted via Dean Hall by E-mail :

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 became 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 President of the band was Thomas Clarke . The first Secretary of the band was Seán O'Casey . Casey acted in many plays staged by the St. Laurence O'Toole Dramatic Society to raise money for the band .
Mike Colgan ( later a Senator ) was the first Pipe Major . Pádraig Pearse and Douglas Hyde presented the new band with a banner . The banner was later confiscated by the British Army as also were the band instruments . The instruments were later returned but the banner was never seen again .
On a second occasion , the band headquarters were raided by the army because of the band's close connections to many members of the Irish Volunteer Army . Instruments and records were confiscated and in a sequel to the 1916 Rising were burned on this occasion in Oriel street , Dublin .
The first HQ of the band in Leinster Avenue were also destroyed and all but four of the band members were jailed .In 1918 , the present HQ of the band in Seville Place , Dublin were acquired by the band . During the Irish War of Independence 1918-1922 , the HQ were attacked by the military on numerous occasions . Furnishings , fireplaces , etc. were ripped out and thrown out into the street . To the present day bullet marks may be seen on the walls and ceiling .
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 instruments of the Ringsend Brass and Reed band were so destroyed that that band never recovered .
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 band played during this concert . 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 St. Laurence O'Toole 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. . The Assistant Secretary was Gerry Saunders , who was recently home on a visit to this country from Vancouver , Canada . Other officials included James Fitzsimons , Johnny MacDonnell , Mick Lawless , Paddy MacDonnell , Frank Burns , Robert Kavanagh , Charles Stokes and Patrick Brady .
Following the heady days of the 1950's the band began a downward slide . Several members fell by the wayside due to commitments to the army . 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 . Eamonn Casey brought his sons Eamonn and Dominick down to learn the pipes ( Dominick later changed to the drums and was drum sergeant in the band for many years) . Tommy Tully brought along his sons Terry ( now the almost 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 . Despite his years , Seamus 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 75th. Anniversary in 1985 . The band was to finish that year as Champion of Champions in Grade 2 in the IPBA and the trophy presented was, rather aptly , the Tommy Tully Memorial Trophy .
About this time , both Terry Tully and Ronan Maguire who had started his playing career under Pipe Major Billy Brierton in St. Kevin's Pipe Band , Bray , began to feature in solo contests .
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 , Johnny Keogh took over as Drum Sergeant from Dominick Casey who had done sterling work up to that point . The band took 6th. prize in the Europeans in Stranraer that year . The improvement continued in 1987 . The band took prizes in 17 out of 17 contests and finished 2nd. in the World Pipe Band Championships in Glasgow . In 1987 the band won thirteen out of fifteen contests outright including the Leinster , Ulster , All Ireland and Scottish Championships . Once again , a World Championship eluded the band with them having again to settle on 2nd. place . The band also finished 3rd. in Dunoon . A place 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 ?? And you feel hard done by at times ?? In 1991 , the St. Laurence O'Toole won the coveted Ulster Championships . Recognising the quality of musical standard , the Irish government invited O'Toole's to Expo '92 in Seville , Spain along with such groups as The Chieftains . The St. Laurence O'Toole include a large selection of Irish traditional tunes in their selections and along with such bands as the 78th. Fraser's from Toronto have done much to have Irish jigs and reels accepted as standard in pipe band selections . There was a time when many Scottish judges would criticise a band for not pointing their jigs and reels Scottish style . Open jigs and reels are now very much accepted . Terry has also proven to be quite a composer with top bands around the world playing his tunes . The band is now in Grade 1 but have yet to make a break through at this level . They did manage to win 1st. at Pitlochry and a fourth place 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 . However , given the talent and dedication that is ever present in the St. Laurence O'Toole Pipe Band , one has no doubt but that these problems will be overcome . Certainly , the I.P.B.A. has a band that it can justly be proud of . Long may they continue to entertain us with their wonderful brand of music . Not bad going for a band that started life in a small hall in Dublin City Centre at the turn of the century .

Back to Band List