Townspeople and visitors to Ballymoney on Saturday 30th July could easily have thought they were in London for Notting Hill or Rio for Mardis Gras; such was the atmosphere and turnout for the Annual Dunloy Accordion Band Ulster Scots Festival and parade.
The town’s Castlecroft area took on a new lease of life that morning as band members began to build the stage, set up the sound system and decorate the area for the Festival concert. A very fine day of summer weather contributed greatly to the already ‘buzzing’ atmosphere felt around the town and by 1pm this had helped a capacity audience turn out at Castlecroft for the Festival to begin.
In his opening remarks, Nelson McCausland cited the fact that Ulster Scots Culture was alive and thriving in its North Antrim homeland and commended Dunloy Accordion Band as ambassadors for such and for its efforts to maintain this cultural awareness province and nation-wide.
Having wished the band every success, Nelson and the rest of the audience were then entertained by a spectacular line-up of entertainment which brought together some of the provinces’ finest musicians. Compered seamlessly by Fermanagh man Gary Wilson who had the audience in the palm of his hand, the concert provided an outlet for the very best our culture has to offer and show-cased Ballymoney at its best.
An audience containing visitors from England, Scotland and Australia were enthralled by Skullduggery, Dunloy Accordion Band Concert Group, Newtownards Melody Flute Band, Blazing Bellows, Newtown Folk and the Commons Silver band from Newry. As the concert whiled away the hours of the afternoon, face painters and children’s entertainers kept mums, dads and kids happy in the afternoon sunshine.
Local shopkeepers, café/restaurant owners and their staff already had a smile on their faces as they were being run off their feet keeping up with the increased trade brought by the visitors to the Festival, many reporting record takings for the day. Ballymoney’s First Citizen, Mayor Stevenson, a member of the band spoke briefly as he and other band members made presentations to local charities and welcomed visitors to the town.
As the Castlecroft concert wound down at around 6.30 pm there was no let-up in the quality music one would associate with the Dunloy Accordion Band. Large crowds of people had already begun to fill the town centre in readiness for the parade.
To facilitate the parade audience, the band had laid on even more music to entertain spectators pre-parade. At Castlecroft again, the inimitable Baillies Mills Accordion Band played to another capacity crowd who were captivated by their unique mix of music to suit young and old alike. At High Street, two of the provinces finest bands in their respective genres played to yet another massive crowd of music enthusiasts in energetic concerts blessed by the lovely warm summer’s evening sunshine. Dungannon Silver Band and Cookstown Sons of William both gave outstanding performances worthy of any professional ensemble.
94 bands in total made their way through the streets of the town in a parade led by Dungannon Silver Band and the ‘Crazy Characters’ and described by many as ‘unparalleled’ in the history of parades in Ballymoney. A most notable feature of the whole event was the massive amount of families who had turned out to enjoy the relaxed, safe, family atmosphere that prevails at the parade.
Conscious of this, band members could be seen giving out free flags, sweets and balloons to delighted children and even more delighted parents. Bands came from every part of the province to take part in the parade, testimony to the fact that the Dunloy Band is one of the province’s busiest and furthest travelled bands.
A band spokesperson commented afterwards: “The members of Dunloy Accordion Band are absolutely overwhelmed at the success of this year’s festival and parade – undoubtedly our best ever. Every year we require thre elements to come together to make the day successful - good weather, good bands and the support of the people of the town and surrounding district.
“We can never be sure of the weather part of the equation but we can always be sure of the support of the bands and most importantly of all, the support of the townspeople of Ballymoney whose support of the band is unparalleled, unflinching and makes a year’s worth of preparing for the day a pleasure every single year.
“Of course part of the reason for the day is to raise much needed funds for the band and this year we are blown away by the generosity of the public. Over the whole day we raised £9504.14 for band funds with £5735.37 of this coming from the evening collection alone.
“This is an amazing sum and is very necessary funds for accordion bands these days where decent instruments can cost £6500. To everyone who made a donation to the band, collected or marshalled for us or helped in any way we would like to say thank you so so much.
“We’d also like to thank the Manor Hotel, the Imperial and the other local businesses for their support by facilitating the large crowd of people who influx the town on the day and their provision of facilities for them. Our thanks also go to the Ulster Scots Agency and Ballymoney Borough Council without whose help, the whole day would be impossible.”
If you missed the parade and festival or would like to re-live the day, DVDs are available at a price of £10 from Faye on 07525178251.