Ballygowan Flute Band was formed during 1876 by a group of local young men, with George McVeigh, one of the founder members, taking responsibility for teaching and getting the band up and running. By 1900 the band had purchased a piece of land at the edge of a quarry hole, and so the first half of the band hall was built and then completed during 1935.

The first conductor, from outside the members, was a gentleman from Newtownards named Alec Belshaw, around 1902. The band rehearsed on Saturday night, so Mr. Belshaw got a train from Newtownards to Comber, then changed to a train from Comber to Ballygowan. With rehearsal completed, he walked two and a half miles to the 'Hill Top' farm of the late Mr. Harry Carse and stayed overnight, then he walked home to Newtownards on Sunday, a further six and a half miles! The late Sam Halliday from the Ravenhill Road was the next conductor, but he was more fortunate, as he could get the train from Belfast, stay overnight in Ballygowan, and then get the return train on Sunday.

During the 1920s, a young family by the name of Douglas had joined Ballygowan Flute Band, and these young boys as they were then, were to transform the band by their ability as musicians, and their enthusiasm over the next sixty or more years. The late Harry Gillespie had been appointed as Band Master and with Richard (Dick) - piccolo, George - melody, Robert - bass and Jim Douglas - drum, Mr. Gillespie had a foundation to build a band around. After a time Ballygowan were having such success in the Intermediate Section (today's Grade 2) that, when banding resumed after World War 11, the choice was made to move up to the Senior Section. Success was instant with second place in 1945 and again in 1946 (more detail further down this page).

Ballygowan band is very much family orientated, with many sons and daughters following father, once in there is no getting out. One member was heard to say that if you left, or failed to attend practice, the water to your home was cut off. This is why over the years no less than 18 members have received the 50 years service medal from the Flute Band League, (Over 900 years service by 18 members!) During 1957, the late Richard Douglas (Dick to his legion of friends) became conductor, and two years later won the march contest at the Oval Football Ground with 98 points out of 100. The march played being 'Under The Allied Banners' - and the band still plays it to this day.

The real success commenced as runners up in the World Championship to Ballyclare in both 1988 and 1989. At the Flute Band League Contest at Bangor 24th February 1990 Ballygowan won the championship section - Mr. Brian Houston being the conductor. That year saw Ballygowan's first success in the Northern Ireland Bands Association World Championship contest, with Caroline Weir (now Watson) in charge of the Baton (the first female ever to conduct a winning band in this prestigious competition). Further success was to follow winning the World Championship again in 1992, 1993, 1996. 1999, 2000, 2005, 2009, 2011  2012, 2013 , 2014, 2017 and 2018. Indeed the band members were not to know in 1988 that they had started a thirty-one year unbroken series of BBC radio broadcasts as a result of performances at the world championship, which included fourteen firsts and fourteen runner-up spots.

The story in the Flute Band Association's Annual Own Choice Competition was much the same, and that first 1990 success was one of 7 wins in the 1990s with a further 13 wins since and seven runners-up spots.

The year 1996 (the 120th anniversary of the formation) was the most successful, as every conceivable prize throughout the year at each and every competition was won by Ballygowan. Playing, Entertainment, Percussion and Interpretation (where relevant) were all awarded to the band in each of the individual competitions. Dr. Windsor Hylands was the musical director during this most successful period. Click the 1996 link below for a fuller report.

The photo at the top of the page  is believed to date from 1880 (give or take a year - obviously the band's first uniform)
Back row:: Thomas Mills; George Hinds; Thomas Curragh; Willie Reid; John Gourley; Alfred Kinghan; Henry Carse; James Murray; Robert Bennett; John Simpson
Middle row: John Dempster; William John Bowman; William Carse; Robert Carse; Samuel Simpson; George McVeigh; David Boyce; Robert Mills
Front row: John Heron; William McDowell; Willie Bennett; John McVeigh

This photo shows the NIBA March Contest trophy which dates from 1921 (the band's first success in a Northern Ireland Bands Association contest - playing The Punjaub). The feat was repeated the following year playing Belphegour, and again in 1932 and 1933 with Peace and Plenty and Moygannon resp.
From left:
Back row: John Carse, William McKibben, William Douglas, Harry Maxwell, Robert Gourley, David McCullagh, John Garrett, Jim Withers, Robert Douglas, Sam McDowell
Middle row: Joe McMurray, Thomas Douglas, William Thompson, Henry Morrow, Bob Douglas, Bertie Hollands, James Carse, Michael Douglas, Joe McCullagh, James McCullagh
Front row: Sam McVeigh, James Douglas, Tom Carse, William McMurray, Samuel Halliday (Conductor), Dr. Rose McLernon, Rev. W.K. McLernon, Harry Maxwell, James Gourley
Very front: Robert Carse, Hugh Massey

Ballygowan's first success in an NIBA set piece contest was in 1924 playing a selection from the William Tell Overture. They followed this up with a win in 1927 with The Siege of Rosehall.

This one shows the marching band from the early 1930s
From left:
Back row:  

William Strain, Richard Douglas, Alec Gourley, Jack Curran, Jimmy Gourley, George Douglas, William Massey, Harry Maxwell, Robert Douglas, Robert Gourley
Middle row: Harry Carse?, Robert Carse, John Carse, Tommy Ellison, Fred Gourley, Fred Gourley, William Gibson, McConnell?, J. Maxwell, Gillespie?
Front row: Hugh Massey, Joe McMurray, John Boyce, William McMurray, Dr. McLernon, Harry Gillespie (Conductor), David Hanna, Jim Douglas, Harry Carse (President)
Standing (front): Martin McMinn (left), Stewart Ellison (right)

This photo was taken during the 1946 World Flute band Championship in the Ulster hall, Belfast.
According to the "Ulster Bandman" December 1946 edition, Ballygowan finished second in the senior section for the second successive year - having finished second in the first competition after the second world war (our first year in the top flight). The conductor then was Harry Gillespie.  In the same publication there was a turning back the pages section reminding readers that Ballygowan were winners of the Intermediate section in 1936. There was also a Congratulations page re the 1946 contest which included the text: "The members of Ballygowan Flute, who put up a good fight for the honours in the senior section and were awarded second place for the second successive year."
The N.I.B.A. certificate is out there in the Ballygowan community, so please look in the bottom drawer, it should be on the Bandroom wall!

Percussion: W. McMurray, J. Douglas
Back row (from right): H. Carse, R. Gourley, W. Davidson, J. Strain
2nd row (from right): R. Douglas, G. Douglas, B. Carse, T. Ellison, H. Davidson, T. Stevenson, W. Massey, T. Reid, M. McMinn, J. Carse, S. Morrow, F. Gourley
Near left (from right): D. McCleery, W. Strain, H. Maxwell, J. Curran, H. Gillespie (Jun.), R. Douglas
Front row (from right): S. Ellison, W. Gibson, J. Gourley, T. McMurray

Conductor: Harry Gillespie (Senior)

This photo was taken in Castelereagh Park, the home of Ards Football Club - probably in the early 1950s. The occasion was a march contest and obviously uniforms were not required.
From left::
Front row (kneeling): W. Massey, J. Carse, (?), S. Morrow, G. Douglas, H. Douglas
2nd row: J. Gourley, A. Gourley, T. Ellison, T. McMurray, H. Carse, S. Ellison, W. McMurray, W.B. Blythe (?Conductor), R. Hunt, J. Douglas, D. McKee
Back row: (?), W. Strain, (?), R. Carse, F. Gourley, Robert Douglas, W. Davidson, M. McMinn, T. Houston, D. Douglas, J. Curran

First photograph with the new uniforms of 1950
From left::
Back row: W. Davidson, W. Gibson, J. Curran, J. Garrett, R. Douglas, S. Ellison, W. Massey, T. Stevenson, G. Douglas, Roy Douglas, M. McMinn, B. Presho, F. Gourley
3rd row: R. Gourley (President), R. Douglas, H. Carse, J. Strain, B. McMurray, W. Strain, T. Ellison, J. Carse, W.J. McKibben (Vice-President)
2nd row: H. Davidson, D. McKee, F. Gourley, D. Gourley, T. Gourley, I. Strain, H. O'Neill
Front row: J. Douglas, W. Hanna, T. Gourley, G. Hawthorn (Conductor), W. McMurray, T. Dickson, W. Cooke

Taken in the Bandroom in December 1955
From left::
Back row: W. Massey, F. Corken, M. McMinn, W. Strain, F. Gourley, J. Curran, R. Douglas, G. Hawthorn (Conductor), W. McMurray, J. Gourley, W. Gibson, B. McMurray, S. Ellison, J. McIlveen, B. Davidson, J. Strain, W. Cooke, J. Douglas
Front row: T. Gourley, W. Hanna, T. Gourley, D. Gourley, I. Strain, B. Presho, R. Douglas, H. Davidson, B. Carse, T. Ellison, G. Douglas, R. Douglas, T. Dickson

This photo dates from the late 1950s
From left::
Back row: J. Megraw, R. Ward, J. Gourley, F. Corken, F. Gourley, M. McMinn, T. Ellison, W. Strain, R. Douglas, W. Davidson, G. Douglas, Robert Douglas
Middle row: R. Mannis, J. Watson, R. Carse, R Douglas, T. Dickson, D. Gourley, W. McMurray, H. O'Neill, I. Strain, H. Carse, J. Strain, D. McKee
Front row: H. Smyth, H. Garrett, J. Douglas, D. Leckie, J. Presho, T. Gourley

This photograph was taken in Ballygowan after a march contest win in the Oval in 1958. Maud Dickson is holding the trophy, with Dick Close on her right and Bob Carse.

John Carse (left), Bob Carse (right) and William Strain - each a holder of a 50 year service medal

1964 - another change of uniform
From left::
Back row: J. Canmore, D. Denvir, N. Denvir, D. Gourley, R. Douglas, R. Gourley, W. Strain, K. Rodney, J. Presho
3rd row: 
2nd row:: H. Cromie, M. McMinn, F. Gourley, T. Ellison, J. Watson,, J. Douglas, G. Douglas, B. Carse, S. Evans
Front row: D. Mannis, J. Strain, D. Carse, R. Gourley (President), Rev. A. Stewart, Mrs. A. Reid, Miss V. Strain, W.J. McKibben, (Vice-President), D. Dickson, N. Dickson, W. Ross

The band celebrated its centenary in 1976 in the Drumkeen House Hotel, Belfast. On the right is the President of the Ladies Committee Mrs. A. Reid with Mr. & Mrs. Robert & Alice Gourley (both former members). Indeed there is a story here, because in Alice's young days - and for decades later - girls did not join flute bands. Where would our top flute bands be today if it weren't for the lasses? Alice was ahead of her time because she never actually appeared in public with the band - it seems that some of the older gents back then weren’t quite ready for such a move!

Before the late 1980s, Ballygowan's other successes in the N.I.B.A. premier competition were equal-third place in 1970 and third in 1973.

Current uniforms of the marching band; dedicated in Ballygowan  on 07.07.83
From left::
Standing:: John Dawson, Jim Strain, Bob McMurray, John Presho, Roy Gourley, Dougie Gourley, Harry Carse, Brian Minnis, Robert Mannis, James Gourley, Harry Moore, Davy Denvir, Robert McMurray (Junior), Tom Gourley, Brian Kerr, Geoffrey Gourley, Mark Douglas, Robert Gourley, Richard Douglas, Jim Gourley, Graham Chambers, Isaac Strain, Noel Denvir, Raymond Gibson, John Douglas,  Harry Johnston
Kneeling:: Irene McBride, Wendy Young, Julie McKnight, Audrey Denvir, Susan Denvir, Jane Gourley, Cheryl Strain, Rosemary Porter, Fiona McFarland, Barbara McMurray, Lorraine Gourley

Social evening in the early 1990s

New dress uniforms (1994)
From left:
Back row: S. Gibson, G. Gourley, A. Davidson, R.McMurray, J. Gourley, D. Canmore, M. Douglas
2nd row from back: S. Carse, E. Greenaway, B. Kerr, T. Gourley, G. Houston, R. Gourley, P. McKee, D. Denvir, A. Robinson, S. Gourley
2nd row from front: L. McKee, V. Douglas, L. Burgess, K. McDonald, C. Sharkey, L. Dawson, D. Gibson, I. McBride, J. Gourley, L. Gourley, P. Nellins, S. Denvir, S. Denvir, A. Spratt
Front row: P. Brown, J. Dawson, D. Gourley, J. Presho, H. Carse, Dr. W. Hylands (Conductor), D. Hogg, R. Mannis, D. Denvir, J. Douglas, J. Gourley

1996 vintage - Ballygowan win every single prize in every contest all year.