Closkelt is a hamlet situated in the townland of Drumgooland in rural County Down, between Banbridge and Castlewellan. A band at Closkelt has been in existence since 1878. Originally a flute band, on Monday 10 October 1938 a group of men, some from the flute band met and were determined to learn the great highland bagpipes. The first pipe tutor was the late Mr Sam McManus from Dromara. During the war years of 1939 – 1945, and as a result of WWII, many bands ceased to exist in Northern Ireland, but the dedication and enthusiasm of the local men ensured the Closkelt band kept going. In 1949, complete with new drums, and now known as Closkelt Highland Pipe Band, the band entered the contesting arenas under the guidance of local man Mr Joe Bell.
However, the band was not without difficult times and for a period, membership was low, but due to the perseverance from its most loyal members, new recruits emerged and the band regained strength. In the 1960s Mr Amos Ervine became Pipe Major, assisted by Pipe Sergeant Mr Gordon Malcolmson. These two men kept the band on the road attending local and annual parades. With the introduction of new uniforms and with the band no longer wearing full Highland Dress it was renamed as Closkelt Pipe Band.
In more recent times, and under the auspices of new Pipe Major Mr James Knox MBE, the band went on from strength to strength, re-entering the competition arenas in May 2007. With the welcomed introduction and expertise of St Laurence O’Toole piper Mr David Chesney in 2010, the band went on to triumphantly win the Grade 4B World Pipe Band Championship in Glasgow in 2011 and the band was promoted to Grade 4A for 2012.
David Chesney left St Laurence O’Toole and took on the role of Pipe Major full time with Closkelt. His son Jonathan, a fellow SLOT piper also followed shortly after as Pipe Sergeant with the band being double promoted to Grade 3A in 2015 and then on to Grade 2 from the 2016 season.
More recently in 2017 the band took on a new look. An original custom made tartan was created and was proudly named ‘Drumgooland’ after the townland. The year also saw new members joining with the whole Mid-section being reformed. The band achieved many successes throughout the season which included winning the Ulster Championships and were eventually crowned Grade 2 Northern Ireland Champion of Champions and Grade 2 NI Bass Section Champion of Champions. Another proud highlight was Drum Major James Kennedy wining both Juvenile British and World Drum Major Championship titles.
In 2018 Mr James Knox was officially named as Pipe Major Emeritus for his continued commitments to the band. Now in its 80th year, plans are underway to mark this important anniversary of the band later in the year. Continuing to develop further and with a new Leading Drummer, Mr Alastair Hopper arriving in October 2017 together with new pipers and tenor drummers joining the ranks throughout the off-season.The band won the Grade 2 British Championships at Paisley in May of 2018 and came 2nd at the Grade 2 United Kingdom Championships at Belfast in June of 2018. The band also became All Ireland Champions, All Ireland Drumming Champions and All Ireland Bass Section Champions in July 2018.The band went on to defend their Ulster Champions title for another year, with DM Louise Smiton also picking up the Ulster title in the Novice Grade and to finish July, the band came 3rd at the Scottish Championships. The band successfully qualified for the Grade 2 final at the Worlds in August 2018 and eventually finished up 3rd.Drum Major Louise Smiton was named as the Novice Champion of Champions after an incredibly successful season before she moves up to Junior grade next year. The band also claimed the NI Champion of Champions band, drumming and bass section titles, and to finish the successful season, were crowned Supreme Champion of Champions for 2018.
2019 Ulster Championships
2019 Pre-Season started off with the band performing at a few events in the Autumn of 2018 before taking a short break. When the band came back there were also some additions to the membership in all corps of the band. The band’s first contest was the British Championships at Paisley in May which the band secured first place. A very wet UK Championships in its new venue at Lurgan provided the band with its second championship victory of the season. Whilst the band had to withdraw from the European Championships at Inverness, Drum Major James Kennedy claimed his first Major Adult Title. To finish July 2019, the band claimed its third successive major title, getting first place at the Scottish in Dumbarton. Drum Major James Kennedy also claimed his second Major Adult Championships.
The band and DM James Kennedy both qualified in the World Championships finals, and both eventually finished runner-up. The band were also crowned Supreme Champion of Champion for 2019.Back on home ground, The Ulster Championships were held in Newcastle and band lifted the Ulster Title for a third consecutive year. This was also enough to secure a third successive NI Champion of Champions title, and claim the Bass Section Champion of Champions prize for a third consecutive year, not least due to the hard work and leadership of Vicki Kane as Leading Tenor Drummer who was instrumental in building the mid-section in winter 2016. Drum Majors Louise Smiton and James Kennedy also finished runner-up and Fourth in their respective grades.
At the end of 2019 a decision was taken by all members to form a new 'development' band. Mostly made up of local people its focus is on teaching people the pipes and drums from scratch. In keeping with the band's constitution 'to further the development and promotion of ulster-scots pipe music locally' the new development band will mainly keep to local events and parades whilst the Grade 1 band will contest in the Championships.