This morning I was one of the two keynote speaker at a bands convention organised by the Confederation of Ulster Bands and the Community Conventions and Development Company. The convention was held in Brownlow House in Lurgan and the other keynote speaker was Darwin Templeton, editor of the NewsLetter.
The confederation is an umbrella body comprised of band forums from across Ulster, from within the Protestant/Unionist/Loyalist tradition. They include the Armagh Bands Forum, Ballymena Parades Forum, The Bands Forum, Fermanagh Bands Forum, 36th Ulster Division Regimental Bands Association, Ulster Bands Association, Ulster Bands Forum and West Ulster Bands Forum.
I spoke about 'the role of bands' and Darwin spoke about 'the bands movement and the media'. In the course of my contribution I referred to the contribition that marching bands make as being musical, cultural, social and personal. Bands provide access to musical instruction and music making for many thousands of people and as they improve their standards they also provide a pathway to music excellence. There was also an opportunity to explain the support that DCAL gives to bands, through the Arts Council and the Ulster-Scots Agency, for funding for musical instruments and tuition.
There are hundreds of marching bands in Ulster - flute, accordion, pipe and silver - and perhaps as many as 20,000 people who make music in those bands. This is probably the largest community arts sector in Northern Ireland and yet it does not receive the recognition and the resources it deserves.
The two addresses were followed by a question and answer session and this was extremely constructive and encouraging. The questions and the dicussion raised a number of important issues and I will certainly want to speak to the confederation again to explore some of those issues. I would also wish the confederation well as they seek to support local band activities, develop an agreed bands agenda and lobby at regional level.
It was my first visit for many years to Brownlow House, which was built in 1833 for Rt Hon Charles Brownlow, Lord Lurgan. It was designed by the Edinburgh architect William Henry Playfair and built of Scottish sandstone. Brownlow house is am imposing building and is now on the list of buildings of special architectural and historical merit. The restoration of the house is truly impressive and is a credit ot the owners, the architect and the craftsmen who worked on it. We have lost too many of our historic buildings and I am delighted that this house has been restored and is in regular use. The tea room is open from Monday to Saturday from 10.00 to 3.00 and serves lunches, tea, coffee, scones and tray bakes.