When Ireland and Austria meet on March 26th in the Aviva Stadium in a vital World Cup qualifier, there will be more than 100 Arranmore islanders in the ground for a very special reason.
They will be there to cheer on Ireland of course, but more importantly, to cheer on the Arranmore Pipe Band, who have been invited by the FAI to play the Irish anthem and a selection of tunes prior to the kick-off.
Last year an invitation to play at the game was extended to the band by the FAI’s John Delaney when he and soccer legend Ray Houghton visited the island.
It’s a magnificent honour for the island band, whose numbers had slipped to just five members some four years ago and have now grown to 34.
Alec Brown, (54), piping instructor, says there is “huge excitement” locally about their appearance at the Aviva and 120 islanders have been booked on coaches to travel to the game.
Alec, a professional piper, is married to local woman Marie (nee Kelly) from Leabgarrow, and when they returned to Arranmore in 2009, Alec encouraged more involvement in the band and numbers grew.
From Lochore in Fife, he said everyone locally was aware that what they were doing was “quite historic” for such a small island band.
The band will play the Presidential Salute, the Anthem and a series of well known tunes such as the Rose of Arranmore, Kerry Polka, Marie’s Wedding and the Hills of Gaoth Dobhair (also known and to the same air as Paddy’s Shamrock Shore). “Depending on the time we get we can play a few more pieces, we’re not short of tunes and practice has seen 100 per cent turn out, so we are ready for our kick-off,” laughed Alec.
Interestingly the band won’t have to play the Austrian anthem as it is an orchestral piece not suited to pipes.
The band is made up of 18 pipers, 8 snare drummers; four tenor drummers, one base drummer, one drum major and two flag bearers. This weekend the band will unveil their own new flag as part of the St. Patrick’s Day festivities on the island.