Saturday, 24 October 2015

Genealogy Saturday: The ITGWU Prize Brass and Reed Band

Sepia Saturday prompts bloggers to share their family history with old pictures. 


Their suggestion this week features a lady holding her musical instrument – a harp. It fits nicely with the photograph I intended to share this week - a photograph recently lent to me by my mother's first cousin, Shay Byrne.  In Shay's picture, the Prize Brass & Reed Band of the Irish Transport & General Workers Union stand on the steps of Liberty Hall, in Dublin, with each member holding their musical instrument and proudly displaying the band's recent prize.

ITGWU Band
Irish Transport & General Workers Union Prize Brass & Reed Band,
with conductor Mr. A. Gebler, c. 1947

According to the caption under the original photograph, it was taken after the band won first prize at the Feis Ceoil Golden Jubilee Band Contest, in 1947. My great-grandfather, James Byrne, always carried the band's flag, but is absent from this picture. He died in July 1948, so perhaps it was taken after his death. His eldest son, John Byrne (back row, first from left) and John's son, Shay (child seated, front left), are both present in the picture.  

The Transport Union set up the band in 1919, in conjunction with a number of carters working in the Dublin Dockyards. James Byrne was one of its founder members. This was a volatile time in Ireland's history, right in the middle of the War of Independence. In their first year, the Black and Tans (a hated regiment of the police) raided Liberty Hall and smashed most of their instruments. Despite the set-back, the band survived and went on to play in many public parades and engagements.

In the early days, they were often in trouble with the Black and Tans. A history of the band, published in the ITGWU's Liberty Magazine in 1984, tells an amusing story about a parade in Finglas, Co. Dublin:
‘A contingent of Tans stopped the Band and the officer in charge instructed them to cease playing Irish marches. The Band Sergeant agreed and instructed the Band to play the ‘Wearing of the Green' [a ballad celebrating the Irish Rebellion of 1798]. The officer applauded and remarked ... ‘Isn't that much better than your b.... Irish marches?’[1] 
In this instance, the band may have had the last laugh, at the expense of a sectarian police-force, but undoubtedly such occasions were rare.

The band regularly took part in Transport Union activities. When Mrs. James Connolly, the widow of the 1916 martyr and socialist leader, died in January 1938, the Band represented the Union at her funeral. A large crowd of mourners gathered on both sides of O'Connell Street, outside the General Post Office. Here the Band waited - their flag as usual bearing a photograph of James Connolly. As the funeral procession passed the G.P.O., on its way to Glasnevin Cemetery, they played Handel's ‘Dead March’.[2] 

This was the flag always carried by James Byrne, placing my great-grandfather at Mrs. Connolly's funeral, that day.

In less troubled times, the band regularly took part in public concerts and band competitions – outings my mother remembers were often happily attended by the extended Byrne family.  The band even played on Irish national radio, where their Irish ballads were appreciated by many, as well as their renditions of internationally acclaimed pieces like ‘The Beautiful Blue Danube’ by Strausse, Romberg's ‘Desert Song’ and Auber's ‘Crown Diamonds’.[3]

Wouldn't it be great to find a photograph showing my great-grandfather carrying the flag with the band? Surely, one still exists.

Check out what other 'Saturday Sepians' make of the lady with a harp, here.

More about the ITGWU Band here.


___________________________
[1] Eileen King, ‘History of the Irish Transport & General Workers Union Brass Band’, Liberty Magazine, June 1984, accessed Hayes Peoples History.
[2] Irish Independent, 26 January 1938, p. 11.
[3] Irish Press, 18 January 1938, p. 4; Derry Journal, 26 May, 1939. 

.……………. 
© 2015 Black Raven Genealogy

19 comments:

  1. Great story Dara! I hope you find that photo soon.

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  2. I found a photo on Google images of the band in 1919 with a J. Byrne in it. Could this be him?
    http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_uSlKw6xKFoE/SI4_Xf5GoFI/AAAAAAAABVo/mC1zgkCEUok/s320/irish%2Btransport-union-itgwu-siptu%2Bgen-brass%2Bband-199.JPG

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    1. Thanks so much Ellie, I saw that picture - very interesting. I have a picture of my great-granddad dated about 1914 and that is not him, plus I've searched the picture in case it is mis-labeled but cannot be sure.

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  3. The band outwitting the Black & Tan officer is a hoot. Good thing, though, that officer didn't recognize what the band switched to playing! Nice post. :)

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    1. Thanks, they could have been arrested, or worse! :-)

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  4. Great looking band. I like the way they thumbed their noses at the Black and Tan. I hope you do find one of your great-grandfather carrying the flag.

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    1. Thank you, Helen, I'm sure I'll find a picture eventually!

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  5. I enjoyed reading about the happy band times - who can't feel good while listening to a brass band. But it seems rwong to say that I enjoyed reading the unhappy parts of your story but it was information that I enjoyed receiving if you can follow my meaning. My understanding of Irish history of that era is patchy so it was good to read something with someone's personal connection. A most interesting post.

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    1. I know what your mean, it's great to unearth all our family history - even the sad times - helps us get to know them better.

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  6. This is a splendid photo and a great story. Music was once a vital part of the American trade union movement as well as political action groups too. Sadly the heritage has been forgotten. Bands had an advantage in that they could play songs without actually singing any subversive verses. I hope you find that parade photo with your great-grandfather holding the flag.

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  7. Thanks Mike, Sad the tradition has been lost - there are 'band-stands' all over Ireland (or there were) but they are seemingly never used now, other than as monuments.

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  8. Keep digging and you're bound to find that photo! Interesting post.

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  9. A fascinating post of a band with historic and family connections. Good luck in your search for a photograph of your grandfather carrying the flag. Have you investigated past local newspapers who might feature events the band took part in?

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    1. Thank you Sue, they lived in Dublin city, so were served by national newspapers - but I intend to check out the ITGWU newsletter, if copies still exist.

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  10. Grown men smashing instruments - now that's just mean. I'm glad the Band wasn't defeated.

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  11. It would be great Dara, and I very much hope one turns up for you. I really enjoyed your post.

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  12. hi,i am at present researching a friends grandfathers millitary history.his name was john kenny,he fought in the boer war and also ww1.he lived in newcomen court and was the staff bearer with the workers union brass and reed band,he also held high office in the union.would you have any more pictures of the band in the early 20th century?
    regards,john.

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    1. Sorry John, I have not come across another picture of the band yet, unfortunately. Maybe someday!

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