The S A Irish Pipes & Drums, as the band is known today, has its roots in a time long, long before our own.
It is a fascinating history, which uncovers not just the military origins of the band, but which also tells
of the birth of the Irish warpipe, the evolution of the instrument and the role it has played in Irish life
and militia over the centuries. A fascinating book, in two volumes, called Clear The Way (The Military Heritage
of the South African Irish 1880- 1990), by S Monick and Col O E F Baker, DWD, tells
the whole wonderful story. The book can be ordered in IrishWare,
the official on-line store of the S A Irish Pipes and Drums.
As for today's band in particular, the story begins in 1939 when the Irish Battalion was formed, under the leadership of Pipe Major Fred ('Pipey') Symons.
The Regimental Pipe Band was dissolved in 1942, following the de-activation of the Irish Regiment in South Africa. At the end of the war, P/M Symons assumed the same leading role in the Irish Association Pipe Band. 'Pipey' Symons has, on many occasion, been described as "a gentleman in every sense of the word". He was also an outstanding instructor, and some of his most accomplished pupils are Pipe Majors and leading pipers in South Africa today.
P/M Symons was a driving force in the re-emergence of the Regimental Pipe Band In 1977. Two bands henceforth existed within the compass of the Irish regiment, comprising musicians of both the Association and the Regiment. Other figures who played a prominent role in the consolidation of the Regiment's bands were Drum Majors David Marx and Alfred Haswell. Both had served in the band of the World War II Battalion.
The Pipe Bands of the S A Irish Regiment are unique among pipe bands in South Africa today, insofar as they only ever been under the command of three Pipe Majors: Pipe Majors Symons; Mulinder and Herwill. Pipe Major Craig Herwill still leads the Band today.
The Regimental march is based on two tunes: "South Down Militia" and the "Wearing of the Green". It is sometimes assumed that Killaloe is the Regimental march but this is not actually the case, although it is a tune that has been played more successfully by the bands over the years, having first been played at the Barberton Ceremony of 1972.
Today, the band plays a significant role as a military and ceremonial instrument and adds its distinctive look and sound to special commemorations of events like The Battle of Sidi Rezeigh and Armistice Day.
It also appears at less formal occasions, and plays an important part at St Patrick's Day celebrations and the like.
The S A Irish Pipes and Drums is also a formidable competition band, the band won most of the pipe band competitions in which it participated in 2009 including the "Drill, Dress and Discipline" competition across all grades.The band has been awarded the South African Champions and Champion of Champions trophies in it's grade for this year.Next year 2010, sees the band once again at The Edinburgh Military Tattoo, where as it did in 2005 it will represent the SA Irish Regiment and South Africa in fine style.
It seems that, as Guardians of the Irish Spirit, there's just no putting them down.