Famous pipe bands: Tullylagan

Tullylagan Pipe Band pictured in 2019.

Tullylagan (Gaelic: Tulaigh Lagáin) is a small townland1 located near Cookstown in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. In 1923, two years after the formation of Northern Ireland, a group of men from the local Ulster Special Constabulary formed the band.

The founding members donated a small amount of their wages to pay for instruments and a uniform. Within two years, the band was ready to make its first public appearance. On August 12, 1925 Tullylagan Pipe Band led a Royal Black Preceptory2 parade in nearby Donaghrisk and has continued with this tradition ever since.

In those days the band practised in the grounds of Tullylagan Manor and sported a Cameron tartan but following a request from MacGregor Greer, owner of the estate, switched to McGregor tartan, which its wears today.

It was during the 1930s that the band, under Tommy Green, first competed in pipe band competitions. Success came quickly and the band won almost every contest it entered, including six Ulster Championships.

After the Second World War ended, Norman McCutcheon took over from Tommy. By 1962, the band competed in Grade 3 and that year won the World Championships held in Belfast, becoming the first band from outside Scotland to do so.

In 1963 the organisation added a junior band. It, too, achieved success in the competition arena quite quickly with its most notable success being winning the 1965 All Ireland in Grade 4. Two seasons later, the senior band was promoted to Grade 2. John Rea was appointed Drum instructor in 1966.

The Tullylagan drum corps pictured in 1975.

Due to the success of the junior band, the organisation amalgamated the two bands. The Pipe Major at this point was Hugh Scott and he, with the support of Joe Warnock and John Rea, led the band to being crowned All Ireland Champions and Champion of Champions in 1968. Rea’s drum corps completed the All Ireland Ulster double and was out on its own in almost every contest.

The band was promoted to Grade 1 in 1969. However, John Rea left and it would be two years before Tullylagan competed again, this time with another Warnock, William, at the helm. The Warnock family provided a backbone to the band and the name is synonymous with Tullylagan. Joe Warnock was a founder and original member of the band and his son, Jim, was Pipe Major of the junior. Jim was well known as a reed maker and with Joe devised the Warnock pipe chanter that was popular for a time. Jim’s brother, Andrew led the junior band’s drum corp.  

Sadly, Joe died in 1979 followed a year later by William and Andrew. David Chesney took the reins. In Grade 3, he led the band to winning the All Ireland, Champion of Champions and placing sixth at the Worlds.

In the early 1980s the band took another hiatus from competitions. In 1993 it reformed with David Trainor as Pipe Major, Michael Nelson as Pipe Sergeant, and Geoffrey Hamilton as Leading Drummer. Roughly 80+ youngsters began learning piping and drumming in earnest. Two year later, now in Grade 4B, the youngsters and some ‘old hands’ travelled to Donard Park in Newcastle for the All Ireland Championships. And won. The band was in the prize list at every contest it entered that year.

Jim Warnock photographed in 2019 on his 100th birthday.

This instant revival progressed the band into Grade 4A and another successful season followed: 12 firsts, eight of which were consecutive, including the All Ireland, the Europeans and the Champion of Champions. Promotion to Grade 3 followed.

Competitively, the band’s last good year was in 2001 when it competed in Grade 3A and won the Europeans, the Scottish, placed fourth at the British and third at the Worlds.

Today, Tullylagan competes in Grade 3B and still has its junior band (Grade 4B) and its piping and drumming school. Many players today have come from the junior band and it is still very much a teaching organisation. Another Warnock, Alan, was the main piping teacher for a time. He stills helps out now and again but Andrew Shilliday has been the main teacher for the learner pipers in recent years.

Stephen Swaile is the current Pipe Major. Like many pipers and pipe bands, the band played outside a number of local care homes to entertain and cheer the residents during 2020.

1 A townland was a small geographical division of land used in Ireland and in the Western Isles in Scotland.

2 The Royal Black Preceptory is a Protestant fraternal society formed in neighbouring County Armagh in 1797, two years after the formation of the Orange Order.

The band placed second in its grade at the 2012 World Pipe Band Championships.