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No place like home for returning piper


HAPPY TO BE HOME  Declan Weir, a piper with the Dooagh Pipe Band, who flew home from San Francisco to be part of the celebrations marking the 75th anniversary of the band.  Pic: Michael Mc Laughlin

Edwin McGreal

No matter where his travels have brought him over the years, Declan Weir’s heart has never left Achill Island and his native Dooagh.
He lives in San Francisco and works as an engineering manager in Silicon Valley for Stripe, the financial services company run by the Collisons, the billionaire Irish brothers.
He worked for LinkedIn for eight years before that but when it comes to St Patrick’s Day, there’s only one place this high flyer would want to be.
That’s at home in Dooagh woken at 6am by the drumín mór to signal the start of the day for the Dooagh Pipe Band.
Weir, aged 37, made his return this year to be with the band on its 75th anniversary and continue a family tradition.
“No matter where you are in the world on Paddy’s Day, your mind is at home. If you can’t be home, you’re picturing the band rehearsing, the day itself. The pride in the band is huge,” he said.
“You dedicate so much of your childhood to getting into the band and learning the 50 or so tunes. It took two years to learn and master and the sense of anticipation ahead of St Patrick’s Day is unbelievable. From January on, nothing else is on your mind,” he added.  
Accompanying him in the band were young and old, men, women and children. There’s Saoirse McHugh, the former Green Party election candidate, and the legendary Michael McNamara, who first marched in 1951, whose children and grandchildren continue to participate in the band.
They march from Keel West, beyond Dooagh, through their native village, onto Pollagh, Keel and to Dookinella. They then turn around and return home the same way. Proud locals follow them, likewise with the neighbouring bands of Pollagh, Keel and Dookinella.
It is tribal and is traditional and it is a huge part of life in the western end of Achill. It has to be seen to be believed.
Weir recalls being among the last ‘graduating class’ of master piper, the late Mick Fadian, in 1998.
He credits those at home who keep the tradition alive, with particular praise for pipe major Conall McNamara, a grandson of the aforementioned Michael McNamara.
“Conall has done great work to maintain the tradition and keep standards high,” said Weir.