September 30, 2011

Cullybackey piper achieves possible record at age 13

Thirteen-year-old Emma McDowell may have set the record for youngest female piper ever to compete with a Grade 1 band when she took the field at the 2011 Cowal Championships in Dunoon, Scotland, last August. The feat was just one of several accomplishments in the last year for the up-and-coming piper.

McDowell, who started the pipes at age nine, had been competing with Cullybackey’s Grade 4 band, and before Cowal had been part of the band’s sixth-place finish in Grade 4A at the World Championships.


Emma McDowell continued her run of success on September 17th in Dublin where she captured a first in her category at the All-Ireland Solo Championships. She had finished second earlier in the year in the Ulster Solo Championships.

The youngest-ever pipers in competition with a Grade 1 band are thought to be Bruce Gandy, who in 1975 competed with the City of Victoria Pipe Band at the Seattle Games about three weeks shy of his thirteenth birthday, and Callum Beaumont who competed with the Lothian & Borders Police Pipe Band at the age of 12 years and five months in 2001.

McDowell’s pipe band career started with the Buick Memorial Primary School Pipe Band, and then went to the Cullybackey organization after joining a teaching program run by Cullybackey Pipe-Major Andy McGregor.  She also receives instruction now from Cullybackey piper Alan Glenholmes.

“I had no doubt that Emma would eventually make Grade 1,” McGregor said, “but doing it before her fourteenth birthday was remarkable.”


  1. A remarkable accomplishment, congrats to Emma! Dowco Triumph Street competed in all three circles (1st in qualifier, 10th MSR, 6th Medley, and 9th overall) at the Worlds this year with 12 year old side drummer Amber S, as well.

  2. didn’t realize that Amber was just 12 !! She’s an amazing talent for sure. Stopped me dead right in the middle of a conversation when she started up to play one night at Celtic Arts Winter School.

  3. Congrats to Emma and Amber! So great to see youth with talent like that. I remember Cameron Baird playing with Windsor Police Grade 1 in 2006. I think he was just 13. What an opportunity these young kids have had. Very cool!



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