by ehistoryadmin on November 14, 2014

Proposal for Naas band out of tune

Liam Kenny

The year 1914 will forever be associated with the soundtrack of violence: the staccato of machine guns, the crack-crack of rifle fire, and the thump of mortar bombs. Add to that the screams of anguish of men wounded by gas and by flame and the acoustic history of 1914 – certainly its last six months – is one of suffering and pain.

However earlier in 1914, before the innocence of the time was ripped apart by the howling dogs of war, there was still time for consideration of making sounds of a much more harmonious nature. One example is a Kildare Observer report of a meeting held in Naas in mid-January 1914 to set about establishing a band in the town. Naas was somewhat of a latecomer to the formation of a band as many parishes had bands in place in the late 1800s.

This was certainly true of 1899 when local fife-and-drum or brass bands were to found at almost every crossroads beating out stirring airs in support of rallies held by their chosen candidate who was invariably of the nationalist persuasion. Maynooth is one of the few towns to have a town band in modern times. Its predecessor band in April 1899 is recorded as escorting Lord Frederick Fitzgerald from the railway station in Maynooth to the family seat at Carton after he had received the good news of his success in the County Council elections of 1899. In Monasterevin another successful candidate, Mr Cassidy of distillery fame, presented a new set of instruments to the men of his factory band. And in Kildangan the band was at the subject of fisticuffs when it abandoned its political neutrality and declared for one of the candidates. The Kildare Observer reporter commented that this had led to punches been thrown but the fracas must have been of good quality as he went to write that “this was the first genuine Irish row to be seen in the area for a long time.”

It is clear from this review of bands and their activities in Kildare in the late 1800s that they were numerous and often politicised. The bands seem to have had a role similar to that of the GAA when the local units of the organisation acted as a focus for nationalist young men to be part of a disciplined and well organised national movement which reinforced their view of how Ireland’s destiny should progress, The setting up of such bands and groups was also a sign of the temperance movement at work. The temperance movement had been established by Fr Matthew with the explicit aim of keeping young men away from drink whether in pubs or otherwise and the formation of a band created an environment attractive for young men – the chance to meet with others of the same nationalist mindset and to feel one was doing was bit for Irish freedom (albeit at the end of trumpet).

Back to Naas in January 1914 the attempt to establish a band was not quite hitting the right notes despite the enthusiasms of its proposers. The first problem that the organisers faced was that a large public meeting which they had called for the Town Hall had to be switched to the Christian Brothers School because the Town Hall rooms were being decorated for the most glittering event in the elite social calendar, the Kildare Hunt ball.

The Chairman, Mr Michael Fitzsimons, opened the meeting by expressing disappointment at the low turn out. He said that he regretted that greater interest was not shown in the project by a larger attendance at the meeting “of those he thought should be interested in the project.” He said that the establishment of a band would promote the “education, enlightenment and enlivenment of the town” – an exhortation which drew applause. He then handed the floor to the originator of the project, Fr Hipwell, C.C., Naas, who said that the formation of the band would “ do honour to the great old historic town of Naas … the City of the Kings.” He foresaw benefits beyond those of band performance: “Let the band strive to a shining light, not only musically, socially as well.”

He intended that the band would be ecumenical and accept members from all creeds but there was a certain political positioning in the way he framed the inspiration for the band. He took it on himself to identify the political mission statement: “I may with permission of this meeting be allowed to dedicate the band to Nationalism in the first instance, to Imperialism in the second. Irishmen first, Imperialists afterwards.” This political formulation was precisely that being championed by the Irish Parliamentary Party in Westminster. It was a formula known as Home Rule whereby Ireland would have its own parliament and government, but would be situated within the framework of Empire with the King as the ultimate head of state. It was twin-track arrangement which most Irish people seemed comfortable with in 1914. Of course the Home Rule policy was to suffer a huge reverse in the aftermath of the 1916 Rising, which radicalised the population and within two years the Home Rule movement had been eradicated electorally in favour of a more radical approach to Irish Independence.

However high-level political affiliations were far from the minds of the hard-headed business people of Naas in relation to establishing a new band in the town. Mr Fitzsimons said it was disappointing that there were so few at the meeting adding: “Certainly there are very few here of the monied class.” Mr Purcell said he felt that given estimates that it would cost up to £150 to establish a band that it would be a bad time to start fund raising. He pointed out that the parish was already raising funds for the extension to the Christian Brothers School and this had “first claim on the parents and public of Naas.”

 There were contrary views and it was decided to adjourn the meeting to see if any progress could be made towards establishing a band. Before the adjournment it was decided to give the as yet unborn Naas band a title. Proposed by Father Hipwell, seconded by Mr Deere, it was agreed that the band would be named the “Naas Workingmen’s Band.”  Whether the embryonic band ever blew a trumpet or banged a drum will need further enquiry. Leinster Leader 28 January 2014, Looking Back, Series no: 367.

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