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Coronvirus stops 140 years of tradition on Achill Island

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A BREAK WITH TRADITION The Dooagh Pipe Band will not be marching on Achill Island today for the first time in 138 years. Pic: Michel McLaughlin

For the first time since 1882 a band will not march through Dooagh on St Patrick’s Day


Anton McNulty

For the first time in nearly 140 years, the sound of pipes and drums will not reverberate around the village of Dooagh on St Patrick’s Day.
Every St Patrick’s Day since 1882, a band has marched through the village of Dooagh on Achill Island to celebrate the patron saint and the national holiday. However, last week, Achill’s five pipe bands - Dooagh, Pollagh, Keel, Dookinella and Tonragee - met to discuss the outbreak of the coronavirus and decided to cancel this year’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations.
“The pipe bands have not taken this decision lightly, but in the interest of public health and safety, we feel it is a responsible and necessary one to make,” a spokesperson on behalf of the pipe bands wrote on Facebook.
The Dooagh Pipe Band is the oldest of Achill’s five pipe bands having been established in 1947 when it replaced the village’s fife and drum band which had been in existence since 1882.
Since then a band has never failed to march on St Patrick’s Day until it became the latest victim of Covid-19.

History and tradition
Conall McNamara, the current Pipe Major of the Dooagh Pipe Band told The Mayo News that given the history and tradition involved in the St Patrick’s Day celebrations on Achill, cancelling the event was not an easy one.
“It was a tough decision to make to be honest. The tradition has been going on for over 100 years and during that time we have gone through land wars, the War of Independence, a Civil War, two world wars, massive emigration, out breaks of foot and mouth in the 60s and in 2001 and nothing has stopped the band from marching on St Patrick’s Day until this.
“There is so much tradition with the marching of the bands ingrained in who we are on Achill. The decision to cancel the celebrations was very emotional. We have members aged in their 80s who would never miss a St Patrick’s Day and it will be a very strange feeling for everyone involved in the bands not to be marching this St Patrick’s Day,” he said.
St Patrick’s Day traditionally starts early on Achill Island with the first blasts of the pipes beginning at 6am with a reveille when the island’s various pipe bands start marching.
The national holiday one of the busiest days on the island with many of the island’s Diaspora travelling to Achill for the celebrations. The Dooagh band usually starts their march at ‘Molly’s’ in Keel West before marching over the brae and meet up with the other bands where they all play together outside Dookinella Church.
The outbreak of the coronavirus in the United States also resulted in the New York St Patrick’s Day Parade being cancelled for the first time since 1762. It resulted in huge disappointment for Achill native, John P O’Malley who was due to have the honour of marching at the head of the parade as an aide to Grand Marshall.
The 87-year-old Keel native was chosen to represent Bronx County as their aide in the parade and had been looking forward to marching in the parade and represent both The Bronx and Achill Island.