The School of Music is organised as a Corps of the Army and as such it contains a Directorate, a Headquarters incorporating the Army No.1 Band and one detached military bands, namely The Band of 1 Brigade and Band of the 2 Brigade.
Directorate & Headquarters
Director Defence Forces School of Music has responsibility for the overall direction of music policy within the Defence Forces. In addition to overseeing all purchases of new instruments, music and band equipment, Director DFSM has responsibility for the recruitment of new instrumentalists, the ongoing training of all Defence Forces instrumentalists and the training of pipers and drummers drawn from non-musical units outside the DFSM.
Lt Col Mark Armstrong, the current director of the Defence Forces School of Music, is a graduate of Trinity College Dublin. He held appointments as conductor Band of the Curragh Command (1989-2001) and Army No.1 Band (2001-2010) before taking up the position of Director Defence Forces School of Music in 2010.
Lt Col Armstrong has appeared as guest conductor with many of Ireland’s top musical ensembles, choirs and orchestras — National Symphony Orchestra, RTE Concert Orchestra, Irish Chamber Orchestra, Irish Film Orchestra and RTE Philharmonic Choir and he is currently musical director of Tallaght Choral Society. As an arranger and orchestrator his work is wide-ranging and he has produced albums for Ireland’s top performers and produced many arrangements for band.
Although now mostly concerned with administrative matters such as overall musical policy and recruitment, Lt Col Armstrong has performed with military bands in the UK, Germany, Italy, Lebanon and Belgium in recent years.
The Army No 1 Band
The No. 1 Band was formed in 1923 and gave its first public performance under the direction of Colonel Fritz Brase at the Theatre Royal, Dublin, in October of that year. The Band, the first of four military bands established between 1923 and 1936, has retained its original title.
The No. 1 Band has performed at all major ceremonial occasions since the foundation of the State, including all Presidential Inaugurations from that of President Douglas Hyde to the present day.
The band’s engagement schedule now includes attendance at Áras an Uachtaráin for Presentation of Credentials ceremonies of newly appointed Ambassadors, the provision of musical support for State visits to Ireland by foreign Heads of State and high profile State Engagements such as The National Day of Commemoration. In addition the band fulfils all military music requirements for the Defence Forces’ Eastern Brigade.
Concert engagements at the National Concert Hall, recitals in St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin, and a highly successful Schools Concerts programme are a regular part of the band’s life. The band has performed at festival and military tattoos in Italy, Holland, Germany and France. Since 2010 Captain Fergal Carroll has had responsibility for the administration and musical direction of the Army No.1 Band.
Band 1st Brigade
The Army No. 2 Band was formed in April 1925 at Beggars Bush Barracks, Dublin. It was posted to Cork the following year, where it is currently stationed at Collins Barracks.
The numerical titles of all bands, with the exception of the Army No.1 Band, were later changed to territorial styles; thus the Army No.2 Band became The Band of the Southern Command. Its current title, The Band of 1 Southern Brigade, dates from a reorganisation of the Defence Forces in 1997.
In addition to its military commitments, the band plays a major part in the musical and cultural life of the southern region of the country. It regularly appears at important events such as the Cork International Choral Festival and its concert performances at venues such as City Hall, Cork, have won an enthusiastic following .The band’s Schools Concert programme is a much-appreciated part of the Defence Forces contribution to the community.
In recent years performances abroad have become a feature of the band’s schedule and it has performed to acclaim at events such as The International Festival of Military Music at Saumur, France, and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Toronto, Canada.
Defence Forces Pipe Bands
Prior to the establishment of a Piping School at the Curragh in January 1926 pipe bands existed on an ad-hoc basis. Following the publication in a January 1926 edition of An t-Óglach (the Army newspaper) of an advertisement seeking recruits, bands were formed progressively.
By 1929 five bands were established in the following units:
- 7 Infantry Battalion at Portobello Barracks (now Cathal Brugha Barracks), Dublin
- 5 Infantry Battalion at Collins Barracks, Dublin
- The Curragh Training Camp, Co. Kildare
- 12th Infantry Battalion at Sarsfield Barracks, Limerick
- 2 Infantry Battalion at Custume Barracks, Athlone
Personnel of pipe bands performed their musical role in addition to their primary military duties as riflemen and bands took part in routine military parades and local civilian events. On occasion they featured at major ceremonial events in Dublin. A performance at a Military Tattoo held in the grounds of the Royal Dublin Society in 1945 established the bands’ place in Army Music.
Service abroad with Infantry Battalions as part of United Missions became a regular feature from the 1960’s onwards. Bands serving in the Congo, Cyprus and Lebanon played an important role in maintaining morale. Thus the skirl of the Irish pipes was heard in places as far apart as Stanleyville, Elizabethville, Manono, Famagusta, Larnaca and Tibnin.
The Army Reserve also fielded pipe bands - that of ‘B’ Coy, 10 Infantry Battalion (New Ross, Co Wexford) being the most successful.
Currently each of the nine Permanent Defence Force infantry battalions has a pipe band on its establishment. The Air Corps also has a thriving band. The bands continue to play an important part on ceremonial and sporting occasions and are probably best known to Irish audiences due to their performances in connection with the Royal Dublin Society’s Horse Show each year.