In the past decade, Ian Duffy has travelled the globe.
From Belgium to Bucharest, from Tunisia to Holland; he’s marched in a parade down 6th Avenue in New York and appeared on television in China - all as a proud member of The City of Sheffield Pipe Band.
“We certainly know a thing or two about international travel,” laughs Ian, who joined the Sheffield group 16 years ago.
The City of Sheffield Pipe Band - originally the Sheffield Pipers’ Association - was founded in 1908 and has had hundreds of members through its doors in its 108-year history.
“We like to say we’re the best deal in town,” says Ian, aged 59.
“It’s £2 a session and that includes a cup of tea and a music lesson.”
We teamed up with pipers from around the world to play down 6th Avenue.Ian Duffy
And the Richmond man knows this to be true better than most. He joined the band as a drummer before taking up the bagpipes three years ago, receiving one-on-one lessons from band president - and its longest running member - Joe McNulty.
“The band was founded as a way of promoting the learning and playing of bagpipes and that’s still a core part of its ethos,” says Ian, who moved to the city from Glasgow in 1979.
“We have a wonderful teacher called John Barker who has taught people of all ages across the city to play the pipes. We do have Scottish members, but we have lots of English members too, as well as people from Spain, Canada and America. Our members range from age 15, at the moment, up to our president Joe, who’s 84 and has been with the band since the late 50s.
“Membership is always steady, but we’re not bothered if people come for a little while or a long time, we just love that they pass through and become part of our story. It’s a hobby, after all, and the main thing is that the band keeps going. We currently have between 25 and 50 playing members, including plenty of families.”
And there was a special reason behind Ian’s own decision to master the pipes.
He explains: “My grandfather and his brother were both killed on the same day in Belgium in 1916. Their bodies were never found, but their names appear on a memorial over there and, for the 100th anniversary, my family and I will be travelling to Belgium to pay our respects. Three years ago, when my nephew began planning the trip, he asked if I knew of a piper who could attend to play and I decided, then and there, to learn the bagpipes so that I could go to Belgium in 2017 and play for my grandfather.”
The band is currently preparing to head off to France at the end of the month, at the invitation of the Yorkshire and Lancaster Regiment, to take part in a ceremony - alongside the Bishop and Lord Mayor of Sheffield - to commemorate the Sheffield people that died 100 years ago in the Battle of the Somme.
“We’ve been there a few times over the years and it’s a great honour to be asked to be part of the tribute,” Ian says.
And among those the band will be paying tribute to is Private William McKenzie, who died in France aged 34. William moved to the Ecclesall from Avoch in Scotland in his early twenties, where he became one of Sheffield Pipeband’s founding members. The pipers will visit William’s gravesite to pay their respects on July 1.
“He truly was one of our own,” says Ian.
“It means a lot to us to be able to go and play for him.”
Ian reveals that, along with the countless local engagements the band takes part in - 22 this year alone - the international travel is another big draw, particularly for young people, and the band is always keen to recruit new blood.
“We’ve been invited to Chengdu in China, at the invitation of the Chinese government, to play at one of their biggest festivals,” says Ian.
“That was quite an experience, to play to 14,000 people in a stadium, and be broadcast live on television.
“We’ve played at festivals in Tunisia and Germany, met all kinds of warm and wonderful people and always receive such a terrific welcome wherever we go.
“One of my favourite trips was when four of us decided to visit New York in 2013, to take part in their annual Tartan Day Parade down 6th Avenue. We ended up joining up with other individual pipers from all over the world to create a makeshift band that marched through the city beneath our City of Sheffield Pipe Band banner - what a moment! Then the next day, the four of us busked in Times Square - incredible!
“When you’re a member of The City of Sheffield Pipe Band, the world is truly your oyster.”
Visit City of Sheffield Pipe Band for local dates and details on joining the band.
OFFICIAL CITY TARTAN
Wherever the band performs, its members proudly wear its famous Sheffield tartan, designed by one of its own members in 2003 and declared the ofiicial city tartan by the Mayor of Sheffield.
Ian says: “We’re very proud to be the only city in England to have its own properly registered tartan.
“It is made for us by a company in Scotland and features black - to represent the coal mines - grey - the steel from the steel works - a thin red stripe - to signify the fire from the furnaces - and thin blue and green stripes - Sheffield’s official colours.
“You can’t buy it in the shops, we hold the patent and you can only get it through us. It’s very special.”