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Defence Forces School of Music

History of the dfsm

The idea for the establishment of an Army School of Music was first mooted in November, 1922. General Richard Mulcahy, the then Chief of Staff, said “ ... I want to have bands that will dispense music and musical understanding in the highest terms to the people...”. Under the direct supervision of General Mulcahy and Dr. J.F. Larchet, musical adviser to the Army, the project was begun.

The first requirement was for expert military musicians to take on the task of training bands. Approaches to the French Garde Republicaine Band, the leading wind combination in Europe at the time, proved unsuccessful. Enquiries in Germany were more fruitful.

One musician in particular, Col Wilhelm Fritz Brase, was an obvious choice. Brase had one of the most celebrated reputations in German military band circles before the 1914-1918 war. He was a distinguished graduate of the Leipzig Conservatoire and had also studied at the Berlin Academy. By 1907 he had become "Royal Music Director" and in 1911 he was appointed Director of the Band of the First Grenadiers, one of the most coveted positions in German Military Music. He conducted his final massed band concert at Christmas 1917 before the Kaiser, Generals Von Hindenberg and Ludendorf and the German General Staff.

When the proposition to come to Ireland was put to him, he accepted and specifically asked that Christian Sauerzweig, also a German military musician, should be asked to come as his assistant. Sauerzweig, a multi-instrumentalist, had graduated from the Royal Academy in Berlin with the rarely granted note “Excellent’’. While in Berlin, he had frequently performed with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, and was in particular demand for the oboe d’amore and oboe da caccia parts in the works of Johann Sebastian Bach.

These two musicians arrived in Ireland on the first of March 1923 and set about the organisation of a music service. A process of recruitment was initiated, and after a month Colonel Brase reported to GHQ that a band was now formed and could play hymns and a few marches. By October 1923 he felt that his band was strong enough to give a public recital at the Theatre Royal, Dublin. This was an unqualified success. In January 1924 the entire operation was transferred from the Curragh, Co. Kildare, to Beggars Bush Barracks, Dublin. Between 1924 and 1936 a school and three further military bands, all under the Corps title of The Army School of Music, were established. General Mulcahy’s idea of bringing music and performances of a worthy standard to the civilian population was nurtured, and in time flourished.

In addition to the routine work of military ceremonial, a wide range of recital work was undertaken. Pioneer work was done in initiating schools concerts. Army conductors and instrumentalists played a fundamental role in orchestral concerts and in opera and ballet performances throughout the country. Colonel Brase died in 1940 and was succeeded by Colonel Sauerzweig, who served as Director until 1947. The office of Director then passed to Irish musicians who inherited an established tradition and structure.

The first of these, Colonel James Doyle, joined the Army as a cadet in 1923 and held the appointment between 1947 and 1971. Colonel John Brennock served as Director between 1971 and 1981. The next two Directors, Colonel Fred O’Callaghan (1981—1987) and Colonel Jim McGee (1987—1988) had served as boy musicians before being commissioned, and Colonel Mc Gee had the distinction of having the longest ever service (almost fifty years) of any member of the Defence Forces. He was succeeded by Colonel Neil O’Brien. 1997 saw a reorganisation of the Defence Forces which also included a reduction in overall strength. The bands of the re-titled Defence Forces School of Music did not remain untouched by this process.

The Band of the Curragh Command, (formerly The Army No. 3 Band and latterly The Band of the Curragh Training Camp), a unit with a long history of service, was unfortunately lost. This Band was established in 1925 and until its disbandment was an integral part of the civilian and military communities of the Curragh Camp.

The Army Number 1 Band retained its title and remains co-located with the Directorate and school at Cathal Brugha Barracks, Dublin. The Band of the Southern Command (Collins Barracks, Cork) was renamed The Band of 1 Southern Brigade, and the Band of the Western Command (Custume Barracks, Athlone) was retitled The Band of 4 Western Brigade.