The Shankill Protestant Boys Flute Band—or as they are more famously known now—The SPB—were formed in the Shankill area in 1980. The reasons for forming the band were much more than simply establishing another flute band—the Shankill had many at that time. The men behind the formation had other ideas. They wanted to promote and express their Protestant culture and also remember the brave Volunteers and Servicemen who had fought and died during two World Wars—in particular during the Somme offensive—and to remember those in more recent times who perished during the conflict in the war against violent Republicanism.
Sadly many of those who served the band since their beginnings 33 years ago are no longer with us—either passed away or in many instances murdered. However of the original founders around ten remain. Some, remarkably are still marching while others retain honorary membership. Gary Lenaghan—The Hunters—Harold Reynolds-The Young’s—The Freel’s—John McQuade—Derek Mawhinney—The Finlay’s were all there at the start and remain heavily involved today.
The SPB were the first flute band to receive and carry the colours of the 1st Battalion of the Ulster Volunteer Force—in 1982—and to this day carry those colours with pride and dignity. It is a commonly known fact that these colours are carried on ALL occasions—at no time are they excluded—and in the past this has caused some difficulties—with both the Police and indeed with certain sections of the Loyal Orders. At one stage during the Eighties the band came into conflict with the Scottish Orange Institution which forced the band off the road because of their refusal to parade without their beloved colours. Since then the SPB have not walked in Scotland with the Orange.
Around the same time and with the concept of the Supergrass system being implemented the band became heavily involved with Families For Legal Rights. For many weeks the band paraded every might to and from Crumlin Road jail supporting FFLR in their quest to have those spuriously incarcerated released. This eventually happened. Some years later the band were also conspicuous in their full support for the Portadown District during the Drumcree dispute and continued to support that particular battle long after many others had given up the fight.
To see the SPB now with the massed ranks and uniforms that cost in excess of £50,000 is to look at aristocrats on the marching band scene. They are held in extremely high esteem when Blood and Thunder bands are mentioned but that respect has grown and been nurtured over the years and it shouldn’t be forgotten that the band had very humble beginnings. Long before the classy uniforms of today they had to make do with plain purple jumpers, black trousers, badges that were manufactured in Harland and Wolff and a selection of homemade hats!!
It is with some satisfaction and great pride that the band see themselves as a “family band” and this is reflected in the membership. Currently there is an age range from 2-60 years old—there are fathers and sons—grandfathers and grandsons and one particular family can boast ten members in the band!! In today’s climate and with the perception of what Loyalist marching bands stand for, it is worth recounting the generous nature of the SPB. Not only to current or former bandsmen—for whom they have helped out in times of need—paying mortgages—helping at Christmas and indeed paying funeral costs—but in a wider capacity. Many detractors would fail to be aware that in the course of their history the band have raised and donated in excess of £100,000 to charitable causes. How many other bands can make this proud claim? No wonder the band consider themselves to be one big family.
Another consideration that goes unnoticed about the marching band fraternity is the level of musicianship involved. Over the years the SPB—both collectively and individually—have gained many musical awards and can also lay claim to playing for Queen Elizabeth!!
To be a member of the Shankill Protestant Boys is very special. And to march through your own area nad in front of your own community with massed crowds cheering and clapping your every note and step, certainly makes the hairs stand on end and the heart beat faster. Currently band membership stands at 125—a figure that most bands can only dream of. To attend functions the hire of a double deck bus isn’t unusual. On Orange parades we do our best to help the Loyal Orders out by not charging the usual marching or transport fee’s although many would make a donation to the band. A greater emphasis is now being directed towards historical and cultural education within the band. In recent times many of the members, both young and old, have taken part in educational packages which has included trips to the Boyne Heritage Centre and the Battlefields and Cemeteries of the Somme. To join the SPB now is to take part in much more than playing in a band—it is as much about learning discipline, culture and history and also about education.
Thirty three years on the Shankill Protestant Boys are a well established flute band and greatly received throughout that particular culture. We also see ourselves at the forefront in upholding our proud history and culture. We are a very community orientated group and we will continue to serve that community in the best way possible. The band will go from strength to strength in the coming years and as a premier band we welcome those future challenges.
TILL WE DIE.