No Catholic was employed above the level of junior clerk by Londonderry Corporation in 1966; no council houses in the North and Waterside wards were allocated to Catholics, regardless of their circumstances; Seamus Heaney ‘s first anthology of poems , ‘ Death of a Naturalist’ , was published by Faber; Gerry Fitt was elected as a Republican Socialist to represent West Belfast at Westminster; BBC Northern Ireland was a dour, Calvinist organisation which failed to report the faintest hint of discrimination in its broadcast area; when asked by an old Derry republican, I produced a pageant to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising for a moribund Sinn Fein ; Captain Terence O’Neill began to make positive noises of sorts towards nationalists ; an 18 year old Catholic barman was murdered in Belfast by a UVF man, Hugh McClean, who later said that his biggest regret in life was his involvement with the Rev Ian Paisley and his Gospel of hate.
Brian Vallely, a young artist who shared an interest in traditional music with his wife, Eithne , together founded the Armagh Pipers’ Club in 1966 to encourage young children of all denominations to take an interest in learning an instrument, loosely associated with traditional, Irish music. Last night, they celebrated 50 years of that hugely successful school in the Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow, as part of Celtic Connections. This was very much a family affair with Brian and Eithne joining the musicians onstage for a rollicking finale. Most of the particpants, close on 30 musicians, were graduates of the Piping School or had close association to it. Included were sons , Niall, Cillian and Caoimhín, who showed their mastery respectively on concertina, pipes and keyboard. They were joined for the first half by the Anglo-Irish band, Flook, comprising Sarah Allen on flute, Brian Finnegan, another Club alumnus, on whistles and the inexhaustible guitarist , Ed Boyd. Folk aristocracy , Lunasa, led the second half with their flautist, Kevin Crawford , demonstrating considerable skills as MC with his dead pan humour – pipers fingering and warming their chanters back stage provided amusement for a very enthusiastic audience.This was a night to celebrate the achievements of Brian and Eithne and the musicians did that in superb style and musicality with a succession of enchanting reels , jigs and the occasional vocal; for three hours, we were transported to an epic, sonic landscape of cultural sensuality. The concert was introduced by a Gaelic speaking native of Dungannon, Lynette Fay, who works for the BBC and is currently making a documentary on the Pipers’ Club.
The BBC is inching towards change.