Background of Irish Thunder

Irish Thunder Pipes and Drums, in Gaelic known as Eireannach Toirneach (er-nock ter-nock), is associated with the AOH, Notre Dame Division #1 of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.  The Ancient Order of Hibernians, or AOH, is the oldest Irish Catholic organization in America, founded in 1836.  The band has been in existence since 1993 and is led by president and band manager Sean Murray, pipe major Cullen Kirkpatrick, pipe sergeants Joe Cassidy, Bob Kirkpatrick, and Frank Larkin, drum sergeant Al Fox, and drum major Pete Hand.  

Irish Thunder performs mostly in the Philadelphia region, but also has traveled as far as Virginia and Ireland throughout the years.  They perform in parades, exhibitions, concerts, and festivals.  Irish Thunder dedicates some of their personal time during the year to various charities, including performing for the Royer-Greaves School for the Blind in Paoli, PA and The Sisters & Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary at Immaculata University.  The band also supports breast cancer by selling a “breast cancer” version of their current band t-shirt, with all proceeds going to breast cancer awareness funds.

Irish Thunder is often referred to as an “extended family” to many of its members.  The band has many characteristics of a family unit, where members care and support each other.   Throughout the years pipers & drummers spend countless hours together at practice, performances, parades, and volunteer events such as funerals or dedications.  The band has a unique, family atmosphere where everyone genuinely cares for each other.

There are some members that are related to one another by blood.  This is evident with our pipe major Cullen Kirkpatrick.  His father Bob was one of the founding members of the band in 1993, and Cullen joined several years later.  Another founding member was Jay Murray, who has recently retired from the band.  His son Sean, band president & manager, joined the band a few years later as a piper.  The Murrays seem to be scattered throughout the band, with piper Brain Murray, Sean’s cousin, and his father Bernie Murray, as a tenor drummer.  Bernie’s brother Michael also servers the band as a tenor drummer.  Both Bernie and Michael are Jay’s younger brothers.

Band members share personal times together besides performing in parades, festivals, and concerts.  Members and their families celebrate each year with a summer band picnic.  This is a great opportunity for members to enjoy a bit of “down” time and each other and their families.  Over the years there have been many highs and lows within the Irish Thunder family, including weddings, funerals, and births of children.   Whether it be a joyous occasion like a wedding or birth of a son or daughter, or a solemn one with the death of a loved one, members are there for each other.  This is what makes the Irish Thunder Pipes & Drums unique and special.     

Irish Thunder ......the Beginning

The idea of the first AOH pipe band in Pennsylvania began in July of 1993 at McGillin’s Old Ale House, located on Drury Street in Center City Philadelphia. On that date Jack Rossiter, a member of the AOH Division No. 1 in Montgomery County, PA, was introduced to Tom Canty by their mutual friend, Kathy.

Canty, a retired Philadelphia police officer, spoke of his years of bagpiping with the Emerald Society Pipe Band, which he founded in 1972 and led until 1977.

Rossiter spoke of his involvement with the Notre Dame Division of the AOH and highlighted the fact that in less than four years, the Division had become the largest AOH Division in Pennsylvania and was well on the road to becoming one of the largest and most active orders in the United States.

Canty, who wanted to get back into piping, agreed to become Pipe Major for an AOH band if enough interest could be generated. Several orientation meetings were organized by Canty to introduce the AOH membership to the art of piping.

By the first week in December, 1993, six AOH inductees had come together, chanter in hand, for their first weekly pipe practice at Swedesburg Volunteer Firehouse… without Canty, who was snowed in at his northeast Philadelphia home.

As a result of publicity given the band by the Irish Edition newspaper and the AOH newsletter, seven more members, including two drummers had joined the band and Canty, "Himself," had been sworn in as an AOH member.

From the outset, Canty talked weekly on the history of Irish "war piping" and continued to plug his understanding that the Irish never wore plaid kilts but rather the traditional solid color Irish kilt of either green, royal Irish blue, maroon, or saffron. His comments gained new found support in March when a letter arrived for the band at the firehouse from a piping devotee named Stephen Lagan of Shannon, County Clare, Ireland. Mr. Lagan’s confirmation of Canty’s disdain for all things tartan led to the band’s order for solid color kilts.

Like most new  non-profit organizations, funds were low. Therefore, the Division actively assisted in a fundraising raffle to help raise money and later, were generous in voting an interest-free loan so that every member of the band could purchase a set of bagpipes in time for the annual AOH Irish Festival held in Mount Clare during the month of September.

This group, by July of 1994, had convinced itself that it would be ready to perform at its Division’s Irish Festival in September. Eventually, the band voted on Chris Dougherty’s recommendation to call the band Eireannach Toirneach, which is translated from Gaelic as Irish Thunder.

Irish Thunder’s debut at the AOH Festival went off without a hitch, and the audience was most encouraging in their applause. The band picked up several more pipers and drummers following this event and by April of 1995, numbered twenty-five ranging in ages from 11 to 63.

Canty returned to his native Ireland in December of 1995. In his place, Anthony Fucito was elected Pipe Major. Fucito was originally from New York and had played with the Saffron Kilts Pipe Band. The band seemed to pick up more events each year as our membership and repertoire increased.

In 1997, Francis Larkin became Pipe Major. Larkin is originally from Long Island and played with several bands in that area including Inis Fada, Saffron Kilts, and the Nassau County Fire Dept. Pipe Band, of which he was Pipe Major. Since that time, we have doubled our repertoire and dramatically increased the quality and expression of our music.

2000 was our first season competing at a grade 5 level. In July of 2000, we raised enough funds to send each member of the band to the All Ireland Pipe Band Competition held in Kilkenny, Ireland where the competition band competed at the grade 4B level. We had a wonderful time in Ireland and learned a lot from our experience.

At the end of the 2002 season, Frank stepped down and Cullen Kirkpatrick was appointed Pipe Major.