An era in the cultural history of Mullingar truly ended on April 2014 when it was announced that Hubie Magee was retiring after a record 57 years as Director of Mullingar Town Band. His daughter,Kim,will take over as Band Director and Hubie has been given the title Band Director Emiritus. Hubert Magee has enriched the lives of thousands of Mullingar children,teens and adults over the last six decades. Under his directorship the Band has won numerous prizes and commendations at concerts across Ireland and abroad. Membership of the Band has risen to over 150 and the Band is an integral part of the musical and social life of Mullingar.
That Mullingar still has a Town Band is very largely due to Hubie Magee. The Band has been around since 1879,when it was founded by local Roman Catholic priest,Father Poland. Father Poland was Director of the Holy Family Confraternity and the Band started life as the Mullingar Confraternity Band. Many of the Band members were British soldiers who had played with the various regimental bands stationed in the Army Barracks. The link between the Band and the Confraternity continued until the 1940s. It was then handed over to a Committee and became the Mullingar Brass and Reed Band. The Band played at functions such as the annual commemmoration of the Easter Rising. But few new peole joined and by 1957 the membership had dwindled to four. There seemed little hope that it would continue. But then,Hubie Magee was appointed Director.
Hubie was playing clarinet in the Band. He spent six years in Dublin where he studied clarinet, piano harmony, and composition.He also holds diplomas and fellowships in clarinet,band mastership and conducting from Victoria College of Music,London. Over the last six decades he has brought his professional talents and outlook to the running of Mullingar Town Band. When Hubie became the Director,the Town Band was barely in existence. Hubie began to recruit new young members. One of the biggest changes he made was to bring in girls. Because of its origins in the Confraternity and the military,the Band had been an all male affair. There had never been any female members. Times were changing however and the girls began to come in. The Band practise rooms in the Market House began to fill up. One of the new girl members was my sister,Elizabeth Illingworth,who played clarinet.
By the mid 1970s,the Mullingar Town Band was growing in numbers and professionalism.In 1974 the Band took part for the first time in the International Youth Band Festival at Pumerand in the Netherlands. International travel became a regular feature of the Band year and ,by the early years of this century Mullingar Band was taking part in an international exchange with the Cardinal Gibbons High School in Raleigh,North Carolina,U S A. Increasingly the Mullingar Town Band was returning from national and international competitions with gold medals and other awards.
Hubie had set himself the target of having 100 members in the Band by the time the centenary came round in 1979. He achieved this goal and the Band has continued to grow since then. Afine new Band Hall opened to accomodate what was now both a Marching and Concert Band-with the Marching Band now known as The Celtic Crusaders. New uniforms were introduced along with majorettes. There was no occasion of note in Mullingar at which the Band under Hubie’s direction did not play a part. They were there for the Golden Jubilee of the Easter Rising , and for the Golden Jubilee of the Cathedral too.
The Band was on hand to serenade the homecoming Westmeath football teams after their victories in 1963,1995 and 2004. They were on hand to welcome the Lebanese Special Olympics Team in 2003 and to mark the birth of the new Millennium in 2000. When Fleadh Ceoil na hEireann came to town in 1963,the Band was there and when the Army left the Barracks for the last time in 2012 the Band was there to bid them farewell.
Mullingar is now famed nationwide as a musical town. Many of the most talented musicians in this town spent time in the Band . That is one of the reasons why Mullingar owes Hubie Magee a big debt of gratitude. He drew out musical talent where it existed and provided disciplined education for all who came through the band. And like all great teachers he never forgot his pupils-remembering their names even decades after they had moved on. Hubie has always seen his work and the job of the Band as being threefold; To Entertain,To Educate and To Elevate.
That he has most surely done during his close on sixty year stint as Band Director. He is now to be succeeded by his daughter,Kim. She now makes history by being the first female Director in the 135 years of Mullingar Band. Hubie opened the bandhall doors to girls and,so it is appropriate that his succesor should be a woman. Kim Magee is a very worthy successor to her father.
Band Director Emiritus Magee deserves the thanks of all the people of Mullingar for his years of dedicated service to the town. Hope that he has a very long and happy retirement.
by Ruth Illingworth Historian