Hometown Heroes: Barrack Street Band goes marching on

Roisin Burke speaks with Cork Barrack Street Band chairperson, Billy O'Callaghan about his role with the band and how volunteers have helped ensure many have had access to a musical education 
Hometown Heroes: Barrack Street Band goes marching on

Cork Barrack Street Band volunteer Billy O'Callaghan

‘CEOL agus craic’ is an age-old phrase in Ireland, and it’s one that chairperson of the Cork Barrack Street Band, Billy O’Callaghan, keeps close to heart.

Managing the 140 members of the band and honouring the 184-year-old history of the organisation, all while providing a golden opportunity to children who may not have other ways of exploring the world of music, is a lot to take on, but Mr O’Callaghan seems to cope just fine with the volunteer role which he takes on outside of his 9-5 managerial role.

Speaking to The Echo, the band’s chairperson, who has been at the helm for over two decades, said he was introduced to the band at a young age by his family and never left.

“I was introduced to the band at a very young age through my father’s involvement. Growing up around the band environment was a very positive experience where great lifelong friendships were made through the various outings, events, and trips over many years.

“There was always a strong sense of camaraderie among members and becoming more involved always seemed like the natural thing to do!”

Billy, 55, said when he was growing up, sport and music were the two main forms of entertainment and he found favour with the latter.

The band has four bands for various age groups; a training band, junior band, youth band, and senior band, catering for all levels and ages.

Billy said the mixed ability and varied spectrum of ages involved in the organisation adds a level of diversity and intrigue to the cohort.

Mr O’Callaghan said the educational programmes run by the club are something he has a lot of interest and enthusiasm for.

“A lot of my role would involve the youth education programme area of the band which has grown from strength to strength over the last 25 years or so. It’s great to see younger generations of musicians joining the band which we believe will secure the future of the band for generations to come.”

Members of Barrack Street Beginners Band with their conductor Claire Spillane and Billy O'Callaghan, chairperson of Barrack Street Band, during rehearsal at Greenmount N.S., Cork. Picture: Denis Minihane.
Members of Barrack Street Beginners Band with their conductor Claire Spillane and Billy O'Callaghan, chairperson of Barrack Street Band, during rehearsal at Greenmount N.S., Cork. Picture: Denis Minihane.

Billy said he has learned a lot through his involvement in the club.

“The first thing it taught me was, were it not for the voluntary efforts of the previous generations of band members, my generation would not have had the opportunity to access a music education or the great experiences over the years we shared through the band.

“Also, it showed me how important volunteering one’s time is and what it can mean to others and how all that combined shapes people’s lives at either the giving or receiving end of it.

“As a youngster, the experience of playing music in a safe environment, in a group that included mixed ages and abilities had a positive impact on how I interacted with people later in life in general.”

Over the years, with hundreds of gigs played all over the country and beyond, Billy said one of the most memorable events was marching in the St Patrick’s Day parade in Savannah Georgia USA, in 2011.

“There is a huge Irish community there and the parade is the second-largest in the world, behind New York. Up to 750 people take to the streets for the parade and the celebrations are almost a two-week-long festival. It’s amazing.”

While Billy is very much integral to the prosperity and longevity of the band over the years, he was quick to clarify that it was very much a group effort and there are a lot of people involved in ensuring the smooth running of the organisation and all the various elements of the band.

“I am just one of a team of people that work very hard. It is not a one-man show.”

The four bands practice once a week, Tuesdays and Fridays at different times at an outside canopy at Colaiste Éamann Rís.

“We are not sure how long it will last, there is no heat and no lighting, but we will see how long we can get out of it and put on the thinking caps again.”

For anyone who would like to join the band, learn some music, or get involved behind the scenes, Billy encouraged them to get in touch.

“People can email Chairman@corkbarrackstreetband.ie or search Cork Barrack Street Band on Facebook.”

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