Formed in 1952, Ballymageough Accordion Band (Kilkeel) play a range of sacred and military marches.
In 1888, Ballymageough LOL 1036 decided to form a flute band and the flute band first paraded in 1892.
Ted Bowsie was appointed bandmaster of the flute band. Ted was originally from Scotland and was also a military man too. When Ted heard a band playing a tune that appealed to him, he would walk behind the band and memorise it. Ted would then whistle it as best as he could to one band member, while another band member wrote the notes on the blackboard. After some chopping and changing a complete tune emerged, giving Ballymageough Flute Band a new march to play.
Ballymageough were a highly regarded flute band in Mourne at the time. Highlights for the flute band include parading in Kilkeel on Ulster Covenant Day, 28th September 1912, leading 300 men of the Kilkeel Unionist Club through Kilkeel after the signing of the Ulster Solemn League and Covenant. Ballymageough were also chosen to be the unionist the band to escort the newly formed local branch of the Royal Irish Fusiliers in and out of the town in March 1915.
Every 12th July at the top of Newry Street, many residents of both Protestant and Roman Catholic religions came out and stood together to watch the band as they finished parading on the 12th July. The main attraction was to see Ted Bowsie playing the bass drum as Ted knew how to entertain the crowd by doing what we would call today in Mourne ‘over the top’ bass drum flourishing. Ted would have been one of the best in Northern Ireland at it.
Today, a lot of Ballymageough Accordion Band’s members are grandchildren, great grandchildren and great great grandchildren of the flute band members.
After the Second World War, a number of bands across the province were changing from a flute band to a new musical genre. Despite Ballymageough being one of the top flute bands in the district, in 1951 it was decided by Ballymageough lodge to change the flute band to either a pipe band or accordion band. The lodge unanimously agreed to change to accordions.
Alex Girvan became band master and taught Ballymageough Accordion Band in their transition to becoming an accordion band. Ballymageough Accordion was formed in 1952 and first paraded in the summer of 1952. At that time, there were no other active accordion bands in the Mourne District. Ballymageough Accordion Band played full part marches from the beginning, making the band one of the first accordion bands in Northern Ireland to parade as a full part accordion band.
The first uniforms were received and presented to Ballymageough Accordion Band in 1954 (black with gold braid). Between 1952-1954 new accordions and uniforms came to an overall cost of nearly £2,000.
Ballymageough had great success as an accordion band in its early years under the direction of Alex Girvan. The band entered the Northern Ireland Bands Association competitions in the Ulster Hall in 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956 and 1957. The band won Grade 2 Accordion in 1955 and 1956. Ballymageough were promoted to the Championship section in 1957 for the first time and finished 6th place. After 1957, the band decided not to compete anymore and focused on parading.
In 1963, Ballymageough Orange Hall was built which gave the band a great new hall to practice in. Band master Alex Girvan over the next decade taught Roden and Cranfield Accordion Bands once they followed Ballymageough in making the same transition from flute to accordion. A good friendship is still maintained with these Kilkeel accordion bands today, and this was reflected in our recent massed band performance for the Platinum Jubilee Tattoo organised by the Schomberg Society earlier this year (June 2022).
One Saturday each summer during the 60s and 70s, the band also took an annual day trip to collect money for the band, parading in various towns across the country to raise band funds. The day would have started parading Warrenpoint, and then onto Newry, Tandragee, Portadown then finishing the day parading in Newtownards after a meal on route. This was usually a fairly straightforward day in getting from one destination to the next, except for one year when the band finished parading Warrenpoint and realised that a band member’s young daughter wasn’t on the bus. After finding her wandering about Warrenpoint safe and well, the band was able to go on to Newry and no more children got too far away from their parents for the rest of the day.
The band usually raised £100-£120 every year, that would have bought 2-3 new accordions (£40 each).
Following the passing of Alex Girvan, Bertie Sloan was appointed as band master. Ballymageough continued to be regular attenders at all local parades.
Ballymageough received new uniforms in 1988 (blue with red and white braid). Throughout the 90s, the band was taught by Maurice McCabe which saw the band taking part in church services and increasing their music repertoire in marches and sacred music. During this era of the 60s-90s, the band played at concerts across the country, led the praise in Mourne Presbyterian Church and hosted concerts in the old Kilkeel Town Hall.