In the townland of Cargycroy in the early nineteenth century, the Bailey family owned a corn mill, powered by water from the Ravarnette River, with a breast wheel 13 feet 6 inches in diameter. The area was small, and over time came to be known as “Baillies Mills”, and it was here in May 1939, that Baillies Mills Accordion Band was born. The formation and continued existence of the band are due, in the main, to the enthusiasm and musical talents of the Campbell family, from which were four brothers in the original band. The families of Patterson, Hilland, Pettigrew, and Mackin also had two members each in the band.
Following the band’s formation, an advertisement was placed in a local paper in June 1939, which read “FETE IN SAM MCKEE’S FIELD. BAILLIES MILLS ACCORDION BAND IN ATTENDANCE”.
In the early days Band practices were held in the lofts at the homes of two band members, but later they were held in a Nissen hut on River Road where the band took up a more permanent residence, with the seating being on straw bales! For over forty years since Boardmills Orange Hall has been the venue for Band night practices. At this time most of the music played was in ‘March’ time, as most of the engagements were ‘on the road’.
Towards the end of the summer of 1977 Band funds were so depleted that a meeting was called to discuss the seriousness of the situation, and to suggest ways to resolve it. It was agreed that a Concert should be planned, be held in Carryduff Unionist Hall in February 1978. This Concert was both a sellout and a huge success story and was to change the way in which the Band presented itself, to the public, over the next thirty plus years, to the present day. Throughout those years the Band has been in big demand, and has played all over the Province and beyond. The Band still holds its Annual Concert in Ballynahinch Leisure Centre every November. To celebrate its 60th birthday in 1999 the Band played at the Belfast Waterfront before a capacity audience, with several supporting artists. They returned again to the Waterfront to celebrate 70 years in existence, in 2009.
Not only does the Band play ‘live’ to audiences, but since early in 1978, the Band has been providing ‘lasting memories’ of its music, through recordings, which in those early days were ‘long-playing records’ and cassettes!! Down through the years, the Band has produced five albums, and also two DVDs which record the Band’s visit to Bergen in 2010, and their participation in the Lord Mayor’s Show in London, in 2012.
Another aspect of Band life which has been enjoyed by members through the years are infrequent, but none the less enjoyable, ‘tours’ which have been organized. These have included tours to Scotland on four occasions, and shorter tours for weekends to Fermanagh, and several locations in Donegal. In May 2010, the Band undertook its first tour outside the United Kingdom, following an invitation to take part in Bergen’s Independence Day Parade, as part of a National Holiday in Norway.
Following Norway, invitations to other venues came quickly. First came an invitation to lead the Parade at the Battle of Flowers, in Jersey, in August 2011. This was followed by an invitation to participate in the Spalding Flower Festival Parade, in May 2012. The icing on the cake came shortly afterwards when the Band received an invitation to London, to participate in the Lord Mayor’s Show, in November 2012.
This very potted historical glance at the formation, development, and continued success of Baillies Mills Accordion Band gives a rare insight into the loyalty and resilience of its members, through the years, to both exist for such a long period of time, and also to adhere to its motto, and the belief that it is “Bringing pleasure and enjoyment, through music, to audiences throughout the Province and beyond”.