The American Celtic Pipe Band Est. 1971
The American Celtic Pipe Band, Inc. was formed in 1971 and originally named the All-American Celtic Pipe Band. The name was selected to show pride in our patriotism and our heritage. It was shortened to the American Celtic Pipe Band in 1976, when it became incorporated. The band was formed for the purpose of furthering the love of Celtic music. Instrumental in the founding of the band were Donal Morrissey, Sr. and William Kelleher. The two filled the roles of Pipe Major and Drum Sergeant, respectively and began to build a group with members who had little knowledge of bagpipe music.
Originally, there were 13 members of the band and while not affiliated with any fraternal organization, the band’s membership grew in the mid 1970’s to as many as 28. (The group still boasts one of its initial members, Harry Resnick). By 1975, Don Cutter had taken over as Pipe Major. His knowledge and talents helped the band improve in ability and expand in repertoire. While Cutter was instrumental in the increase in talent level, the increase in membership could be directly attributed to one thing. Family. Many of the original members had children who were reaching the age where they could learn an instrument. As a result, the band got a lot bigger, and a lot younger. The future looked bright. Although we lost Don Cutter to retirement in 1977, Don Morrissey stepped back in as Pipe Major and continued to lead this growing pipe corps, while Dick Whitman took over as Drum Sergeant.
By the early 1980’s, the band, while primarily a parade outfit, enjoyed great success in both recruiting new members and establishing a significant presence in the Long Island Community. A new Drum Sergeant in 1982, Pat Roberts, signified the group’s youth movement. He was one of 8 teenagers in the band at the time, with a number of pre-teens receiving lessons as well. Brian McParland became Pipe Major in 1982, as Don Morrissey went on to pursue other opportunities in the piping industry with Saffron United out of Babylon, NY. By 1983, this “family” band had 6 members of the Ryan family, 4 Mullins, 4 Cronins and 4 Hepburns. Carlyn Hepburn became the first female officer of the band, when she replaced Pat Roberts as Drum Sergeant in 1984. While the early 80’s showed great promise, the mid 80’s met with some lean times. Unfortunately, the original members began to retire and their children began to move on to college and pursue careers, including Carlyn, whose father, Pat, took her role as D/S in 1986. Just when it seemed the band was in trouble, there was an infusion of a lot of new talent.
John Mullin joined the band in 1980, and by 1987 had brought with him more new members than can be counted. In 1986, the American Celtic Pipe Band had reached the contest circuit. Under P/M Brian McParland, and with the help of instructors Frank Riggio, Don Goller, and Steve Scrynecki, the band competed for the first time in Grade V. Although there was little success when it came to prizes, there was significant success in furthering the abilities of the band members. The competition group played for two years, and then the focus returned to the parade sets. The exposure on the contest circuit, and the recruiting efforts by many of the band members, would bring membership to new heights.
Although always considered a “family” band, the addition of Jack Meehan in 1989 brought that term to new levels. Since his arrival, there have been 9 Meehans in the band at any one time. By the end of the 80’s, John Mullin had taken over as Pipe Major, and James Ryan, Jr. was his dutiful Pipe Sergeant. Lucille Weidner took over as Drum Sergeant for a retiring Pat Hepburn. It seemed time for the band to make another move to the competition scene. Although John Mullin retired as P/M in 1991, he remained a playing member of the pipe corps. James Ryan took over as Pipe Major and set goals for the band, which brought a new energy to the group. In 1993, the American Celtic Pipe Band was out in the contest field once again.
In 1994, as if a prelude of great things to come, the band secured the prestigious position of leading the 69th Regiment down Fifth Avenue at the start of the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and have done so every year since.
Although the band’s return to competition featured a small group, it set the groundwork for a much larger band. In the first year, the ACPB featured six bagpipers, two snares and a bass drummer. Although it was just above the minimum, good impressions were always made with both the judges and spectators. Since the group generally finished in the middle of the field at every contest, never falling too far off the pace, the excitement of competition didn’t stop after the first year. Practicing at Jack Meehan’s house on Sunday mornings, the band was committed to winning.
By 1995, we earned a First Place trophy. We considered this a turning point for the band. While we felt we were good enough to compete, we also felt we were at a significant disadvantage by having a small pipe corps. The highlight of the year was a 4th Place finish at the Capital District Games in Schenectady, NY. We had 5 pipers, 2 drummers and a bass, and beat out more than half of the competition. We thought we were ready for the move to Grade IV.
In 1996, our first year in Grade IV, we grew to 10 pipers in the competition band. We had modest success that year, but we played well enough to earn the respect of our fellow competitors. In 1997, the band entered the Grade IV contest season with a tougher set (our first hornpipe and some swinging reels), and new Piping (Seamus Coyne) and Drumming (Vivian Stapleton) instructors. Our first event was at the Red Bank, NJ Highland Gathering. We tied for First in points, but took Second in Piping. This gave us Second overall, and we were ecstatic. For the rest of the year, we finished in the top half or better against very difficult competition. The future looked bright, once again. The band initially planned to have both a Grade IV and Grade V contest band for 1998. We had the numbers to do it, but it turned out the commitment couldn’t be made. Things seemed to dim rather quickly for the 1998 contest season. We played the Red Bank contest, and again finished 2nd in Grade IV.
Due to the loss of a number of Grade V players, and some in Grade IV, we had to make a difficult decision on our future. We could either promote some players to the Grade IV, or rebuild in Grade V. It seemed in the best interest of the band to drop to Grade V. In 1998, we finished an abbreviated season in Grade V, and ended our run after the Hunter Mountain Contest in Mid-August.
The 1999 season’s highlights included an enjoyable effort in our only contest of the season, at Hunter Mountain, and the return of Jim Ryan as a World Champion with the City of Washington Pipe Band. In the year 2000, we took some time for ourselves. With a shortened parade season, and a break from the contest season, we came back with renewed enthusiasm and a lot of new faces. And the results couldn’t have been better. We played in 3 contests – just to get our feet wet again – and took a 3rd at Rockland and 4th at Round Hill. Our performance was good enough to get us re-graded by the EUSPBA.
In the 2002 season, we rejoined the ranks of the Grade IV competitors with a couple of more new faces. Jim Ryan, Jr. began the year as Pipe Major, but moved to Arizona before the season got under way. His younger brother Pat led the pipe corps that year in a short lived stint as Pipe Major. 2002 also witnessed the passing of an icon in the northeast bagpiping community, as Jim Ryan, Sr., one of the bands initial members and the driving force behind the success you’ve read about here, will now be watching us from up above.
By the end of 2002, Marty Rowe took the reigns as the new P/M after Pat’s move to New Jersey. Marty’s tenure as Pipe Major saw many new and positive changes to the band, most notably, the addition of Scott Gajdos as pipe instructor. In 2005, the band saw an influx of new students after introducing it’s first Open House. As 2007 rolled around, Pat Ryan returned to Long Island and reclaimed the role of Pipe Major.
As the band moves into 2008, our 37th year of existence, we’re continuing to see an influx of players to the group, and we’ve introduced a new full-time drum instructor in Bob Mulligan. We look forward to entertaining audiences throughout the Northeast for many more years, and we hope you’ll enjoy hearing us as much as we enjoy playing for you.