The Harp and the Lyre.

Wednesday, 05 June 2013 08:30 David J.Murnaghan.
An ornate badge of a harp superimposed on a lyre is a part of Irish musical heritage. The lyre is an ancient musical instrument with strings fixed in an open frame; this dictionary description could be taken to indicate that the lyre is a form of an early ‘harp’. So, a harp superimposed on a ‘harp’ needs some explanation. An explanation is not evident but what it represents today is important. This interesting badge is worn on the uniform collar of members of the Irish Defence Forces School of Music.

This School of Music consists of a central headquarters where the Army No.1 Band is stationed. Both the Southern and Western Brigades have their own bands. In addition, there are Pipe Bands. When the Pipes and Military Band combine a unique sound is produced. In 2011 at the International Military Pilgrimage to Lourdes, when the English speaking armies from around the world attended Mass at the Grotto, Irish Pipers accompanied by the Band of the Royal Corps of Signals played the piece “Highland Cathedral”. It was a glorious moment.

It is unfortunate, that in these difficult times, the number of Irish Military Bands has been reduced from four to three. The Band of the Curragh Training Camp (formerly The Curragh Command) is no longer in existence. 

Let us look back at where all this came from. Shortly after the foundation of the State, it was decided to introduce military bands into the army. Initially, assistance was sought from the French but results failed to materialise, so an approach was made to Germany. In 1923 Fritz Brase who had served as the Bandmaster of the Grenadier Guards in Berlin was invited to Ireland and appointed the first Director of the Army School of Music with the rank of Colonel. Another German, Frederick Sauerzweig was also appointed with the rank of Captain. The selection of soldiers for musical training was started and very quickly a nucleus for military bands was formed. While the main purpose was to provide martial music for troops, public concerts were soon a part of the schedule. These were popular with the public. The bandstand in the hollow in the Phoenix Park is a part of that legacy.

Soon the School of Music expanded and more Band Conductors would be required. To meet this need Cadets were recruited to be trained as Officer Bandmasters. Following the retirement of Colonel Fritz Brase and the death of his successor Colonel Sauerzweig, James M. Doyle, (one of the first class of army music cadets) was appointed Director with the rank of Lieut-Colonel. 

However, the Army School of Music played another important role in the musical culture of Ireland. Lieut-Colonel Doyle was a talented musician. He was to become the conductor of the orchestra of the Dublin Grand Opera Society (DGOS). Captain William O’Kelly, a cavalry officer, played a major role in the formation of the DGOS and for many years was active in an important organizational capacity. The orchestras of the newly formed Radio Eireann (then know as station 2RN) needed conductors. Lieut-Colonel Doyle often conducted the symphony orchestra. Other Officer Bandmasters, Arthur Duff, Michael Bowles and Dermot O’Hara played their part in the development of music in Radio Eireann. Michael Bowles was appointed musical director. Dermot O’Hara, following his army musical career was well known, for many years, as the popular Conductor of the Radio Eireann Light Orchestra.

It is only possible here to give a brief and inadequate account of the importance of the Defence Forces School of Music to the army itself but also to the Government and the people of Ireland. They always play a major part at State ceremonies and parades. For those interested in learning more about the early days of Irish military music. Colonel Doyle’s article “ Music in the Army” is most informative. It appeared in “Music in Ireland - A Symposium”, edited by Professor Aloys Fleischmann and published by Cork University Press in 1952.