Upwards and onwards as a record 10 bands are promoted
A RECORD 10 Irish pipe bands have been promoted by the RSPBA's powerful Music Board for 2016, underlining just how successful the past season has been for ensembles from these shores.
And although the recommendations are still subject to approval from the Board of Directors at their October meeting, it seems virtually certain that all the upgradings will be ratified - and most bands impacted by the changes are already formulating their set pieces for the higher grade next year.
Between them the 10 bands have secured a combined 12 outright majors including four World titles, as well as close to 100 placings altogether in the five majors - a phenomenal strike rate.
It's a tremendous achievement to secure promotion in any competitive arena, and congratulations to all those bands who've earned themselves a crack at new opponents in 2016.
Two local bands jump from 4B to 4A, three others go up a grade into 3B, two are elevated into 3A, two go from 3A to grade two, and in probably the most significant move, Bleary & District are promoted into the elite premier grade alongside the likes of Field Marshal Montgomery, St Laurence O'Toole and reigning world champions Shotts & Dykehead.
It will certainly mean a period of consolidation for the Co Armagh outfit, which was reformed in the winter of 2012 after a long absence from the grass, and which has conquered virtually all before it since then.
In a statement welcoming their elevation, a band spokesman told Piping Digest: "When we started out on this journey three years ago the band had been off the road for seven years and requested to be downgraded from the top division in order to rebuild.
"That rebuilding under pipe major Nigel Davison, pipe sergeant James Gibson and drum sergeant David Brown, all experienced grade one players, has been a rollercoaster ride, and we've not been out of the top six in any major entered in those three years, amassing three All-Ireland and Ulster titles, two UK titles, two Scottish and one British title, three Northern Ireland Champions of Champions and two Supreme Champions of Champions, a world drumming title and second two years running in the Worlds.
"It is the end of the journey in grade two, but a new one begins in grade one and in many ways it all starts again. Playing standards in grade one today are higher than they've ever been and so our standard must also improve if we are to achieve our goal of qualifying for the final of the World Championship in 2016 and eventually getting into the top 10 bands in grade one.
"I believe with a lot of hard work, dedication, practice and the addition of the new players who are coming in we will be able to achieve that. That is the challenge for the leadership - and we are all looking forward to it."
:: Grade 4B to 4A - Portavogie & District, Royal Burgh of Stirling; Carnoustie & District, McDonald Memorial, Lanark & District, Dunbar RBL.
:: Grade 4A to 3B - Methil & District, Marlacoo, Major Sinclair Memorial, St Patrick's Bandon, Arbroath RBL.
:: Grade 3B to 3A - Colmcille, Upper Crossgare, Portlethan & District, Lewis.
:: Grade 3A to 2 - Isle of Islay, City of Discovery, Closkelt, Annsborough.
:: Grade 2 to 1 - Bleary & District
:: Grade 3B to 4A - Tweedvale, Kirkcudbright & District, Penicuik & District, Cowal.
:: Grade 3B to 4B - Newtongrange
:: Grade 4A to 4B - Stoney of Destiny, Camelon, RAF Pipes & Drums Central Scotland.
Meanwhile the novice juvenile will be split for 2016, with the 'A' section of 15 bands comprising around half of those who have competed regularly over the last two years, plus a 'B' section of all other novice juvenile bands currently registered with the RSPBA, which include the Ulster-Scots Agency Juvenile band.