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John F Headen: Timahoe’s Volunteer Band and their trouble with The Black and Tans

Right - stock image of the Black and Tans; top left - piper Joe Byrne is on the extreme right of the photo with President Michael D Higgins; bottom left - a chanter from the Timahoe Volunteer Band in 1920 that is still in use today

This piece was originally published on LaoisToday in March of this year. 

In this piece John F Headen tells the famous story of how a band in Timahoe did battle with the Black and Tans, how some locals ended up in interned in prison in Frongoch and how an instrument from that time is on display in the Timahoe Heritage Centre.


Warpipes or bagpipes have played an important part in Gaelic society for hundreds of years.

Recognised as an instrument of war by the English, they were first banned in Ireland and outlawed in the Statutes of Kilkenny in 1366

State papers in London dated 1572 says the matter of Rory Og O’Moore’s advances is by daylight with bagpipes and by torchlight at night-time

John Derricke’s images of Ireland from 1576 has three woodcuts from County Laois highlighting again Rory Og and his Irish warpipers

The Battle of Stradbally Bridge in 1596 was won by the O’Moore’s as the English were frightened by the blood curdling and hair raising battle tunes of the O’Moore’s.

The depositions of the 1641 Rebellion now in Trinity College and released online recently record two claimants from Ballycarroll and Kilteayle  near the Rock of Dunamase putting in claims for compensation – one by the name of Symon Needham states “he heard and so did many more both hear and see six hundred rebels come marching with drums and bagpipes towards the respondents house”.

In the 1880s the Carlow Nationalist reports the playing of stirring national and patriotic airs by the Timahoe Land League band.

The Timahoe Land League and its band were suppressed by the English in 1888 on the grounds of breaching the peace.

From 1913 the band members were exclusively Irish volunteers and during the War of Independence members of the Timahoe Volunteer band were arrested and interned in Ballykinlar County Down and Frongoch in Wales.

With the arrest of the band members more youths joined the band and extra sets of bagpipes were purchased from Denis McCullough of McCullough Pigotts in Suffolk Street Dublin on a hire purchase scheme.

The English authorities had enough and on a Sunday morning in the summer of 1920 the Black and Tans broke down the door of the band room now part of the community hall and they removed drums, banners, uniforms, bagpipes and other band equipment  to the middle of the Goose Green and burnt everything as people went to Mass in a public display of intimidation.

John Byrne (Knocklaid) and Paddy Rowe (Orchard) were arrested as they took on the Black and Tan on the village green as well as the pipe major Tom Rigney and Jack Keating. A kettle drummer with the band was also arrested. Other band members went on the run.

In 1929 a claim for compensation was successful and £80 awarded for the loss of the band equipment. £20 went to McCullough Pigotts and the local priest insisted that the remaining £60 be used to build St. Mochua’s Hall

In 1969 a meeting was held to discuss re-forming the band. Two original members attended – Martin Joe Carroll and Frank Dunne.

Frank was from Clonaslee and grandfather to the RTE newsreader Eileen Dunne. He was the band instructor and he produced out of his pocket a warpipe chanter which he had brought home from the last band practice of the Timahoe Volunteer band on the Friday night before destruction by the Black and Tans.

Local piper Joe Byrne is on the extreme right – he has expertly retuned a chanter from 1920 that was part of Timahoe’s Volunteer Band

He was billeted up around Wolfhill where he was working in the coal mines and he brought the chanter home to tune in a reed and have it ready for the next practice session.

Frank Dunne gave the last remaining chanter of the Timahoe Volunteer band to the committee at that meeting in 1969.

In recent years the chanter has been tuned expertly by the young piper Joe Byrne and is now in Timahoe Heritage Centre.

Joe Byrne last year gave a fine performance at the Timahoe Heritage Centre and the opening tune on the night was “Come out ye Black and Tans“.

The chanter that is on display in the Timahoe Heritage Centre

SEE ALSO – John F Headen: Hobnail boots, dubbin and Gannon’s Chemist Shop

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