Neilston and District Pipe Band have returned from an emotional trip to the Czech Republic where they took part in an international bagpipe festival for the first time since the passing of Iain MacDonald in May 2020.

Iain, who spent 45 years as the band’s pipe major, had been present on every journey to the event in Strakonice since the band first began travelling to the country – then known as Czechoslovakia and still under communist rule – in 1978.

Their final pre-Covid trip in 2018, therefore, marked 40 years of appearances at the festival, which normally takes place every two years.

During one of their night-time performances at this year’s event, the MC made a very poignant speech in honour of Iain in the gardens of the town’s castle, and the Neilston band played Amazing Grace in his memory.

Pipe Major Russell Mechan, who has been attending since 1998, told the Barrhead News: “They did a really nice tribute to Iain and held a minute silence in honour of him and his wife because they had been going over for a long time and were really quite well known.

“It was a nice touch and it was quite emotional for the whole band as well.”

After a 6am flight from Glasgow on the Thursday morning, the group finally made it to the Czech town at 5.30pm in the evening.

Russell and Kenny Walker, the drum sergeant, then met with the mayor and all of the other group leaders for a meal.

They then played two performances on the Friday night and a performance on Saturday night, before rounding off the proceedings on the Sunday with two performances and participation in the parade.

Neilston Pipe Band’s Strakonice trip was the first since the death of pipe major Iain Macdonald in 2020The band on parade in the Czech town

Also playing at the event were groups from countries across Europe including Spain, France, Portugal, Belgium, Hungary and Italy, as well as a few Czech folk groups.

Sixteen pipers, five side drummers and a bass drummer made the trip with the local band, including three young members playing at the festival for the first time - brothers Aidan and Daniel Connell, aged 18 and 15, and Murdo Robertson, 17.

Four pipers and a drummer from the Rothbury Pipe Band, who regularly come up to play at the Neilston Show, also played alongside the group at the festival.

Russell added: “It was quite an experience yet again, and everybody enjoyed it.

“We are always at the end of the parade. We are the final act, the big finale because we have the biggest sound.

“There are two stages and we are the final act on the one in the castle.

“When we finish we come off the stage and march out of the castle and that’s the kind of signal to say the festivals ended.

“My daughter Emma is the pipe sergeant and she had her two kids with her. My grandson is five and my granddaughter is 16 months.

“It was a great experience for them as well seeing all the different sights and different bands.”