Reilly Raiders travel to Ireland for St. Patrick’s Day

There was once a junior corps in the Philadelphia area called the A.K.Street Post. The group won the National Championship at the New York City World’s Fair in 1940.

However, due to WWII, the corps disbanded as the young men joined the service. When the war was over, they went to the director of Street Post, Abe Street, and his wife Mrs. Virginia (MeMa) Street, and explained that they would like to start a senior corps since they were all over age. One of the men who was instrumental in starting this group was William Hooton.

The small group of men then decided on a new name and came up with one of their fallen comrades, Cpl. Frederick W. Reilly. However, this was only the beginning of one man’s dream, which later became a reality.

This all took place in 1946 and the dream came full circle in 2005 as Bill Hooten’s legend continues. Yes, the man became known as “Wild” Bill Hooton of the famous Reilly Raiders Senior Drum & Bugle Corps — the only senior corps ever to win both VFW and American Legion National titles.

Wild Bill was also an innovator and a man ahead of his time. As a drum major, he dared to be different by coming on to the field at different times with various gimmicks such as entering the stadium on a white horse. Another time he was on a motorcycle and once even being             lowered to the field by a helicopter.

He was always on the edge and always brought out the best of Reilly with their drill, music and his wild antics. When the corps disbanded many years ago, his dream had not been fulfilled.
In 1994, a group of the old members got together to start an alumni corps. Once again, some familiar names came together. The most notable one was Robert Adair, a long-time friend of Wild Bill and an ex-Osmond Cadet.

Jim Gallagher, a former Liberty Bell Cadet, and John Tully, were both taught by Adair and Hooton. They contacted Adair. Bob said, “I’ve got the music, you get the bodies.”

Next thing, they had a new corps in a new era. Three decades of men came together, from the 1946 corps all the way up to the 1965 corps. The new alumni corps went up to the Boston area twice, in 1995 and 1996, but on the second trip to Chelmsford, MA, a strange turn of events started to take shape.

Reilly’s business manager at the time got pretty friendly with the motel manager and found out that he plays golf with Richard Branson, owner of Virgin Airlines. The BM’s wheels started to turn and he thought, yes, maybe this dream can still come true. Various attempts were made to set up a trip to Ireland, but to no avail. The alumni corps was still too new and not seasoned enough to take on this massive task.

In the winter of 2003-2004, a new regime took over and another ex-Liberty Bell member, Jim McDevitt, picked up the ball and started to make huge strides. In one full year, he and the Reilly committee, headed by the new director Frank Neill, ex-Yearsley Post Cadets, had everything lined up and ready to go.

On Sunday, March 13, 2005, the dream finally started to come true as the corps embarked on their trip to Dublin, Ireland, to march down the main street in the heart of the city, O’Connell Street, on St. Paddy’s Day, March 17.

The corps landed at Shannon Airport and spent several nights at the Killarney Towers Hotel doing some sightseeing and shopping. The corps took a tour to the Dingle Peninsula (this is were the movie “Ryan’s Daughter” was filmed). This area is located on the western side of Ireland, which happens to have tropical-type weather. Occasionally we saw “palm” trees around the area.

The five bus drivers took the group from Shannon to Limerick, then to Killarney, then over to Galway. They went through such towns and villages as Adare with thatched cottages, Newcastle West, Abbeyfeale, Castleisland, West Cork, the small village of Blarney with its castle and the famous Blarney Stone, then through Fermoy, Mitchelstown and Cahir, Cashel, the county of Laois and into Dublin.

All five buses pulled up to the hotel on Wednesday afternoon, March 16. This time it was the Burlington Hotel in downtown Dublin. All 198 members and spouses were in rare form and one could feel the electricity and anxiety building. The corps and support group were ready. The committee had their meetings and the bus drivers were all advised on the Thursday schedule.

A dream was about to be fulfilled. The next morning, everyone was up at 0700 for breakfast and the members had tont, #10 of the musical groups, nobody really knew what they were to have in the line of March.

Then the orders were given to line up. Members had some idea because McDevitt had handouts for the different sections, but not an overall scope of the entire corps. We had two members from the Yankee Rebels filling in with the honor guard and eight members from the Blessed Sacrament Golden Knights, which included four young ladies.

The corps’ two drum majors for the day were John Lundell, normally the honor guard captain, and Joe Cicippio, ex-Nuss O’Hara Todd Invaders from Norristown, PA. Joe is also a war hero by being held captive for seven years in Beirut, which helped to compel him to write the book “Chains to Roses.”

Once the corps was lined up, to their amazement they had two drum majors, 10 in the honor guard (NO rifles, pistols or sabers were allowed), 12 silks, 19 in the drum line, with 10 across, 42 horns, and yes — 10 guidons. The balance was there and the corps sounded great.

As they were getting ready to pull out, the dream had made the complete circle. Low and behold, out from a horse trailer came a white horse. Wild Bill’s dream, way back in the late 1950s, was to take Reilly to Ireland and lead them down the main street on a white horse.

Now, 50 years later, his dream was fulfilled, but there was still more. His wife, Carol, who marches in the horn line, brought some of his ashes with her and sprinkled them as we marched past the judging area. The horse and ashes not only honored Wild Bill, but ALL the members who gave their lives in the war and ALL our fallen comrades from the Reilly Raiders.

The parade route was awesome. The entire two miles had people 10 to 15 deep on BOTH sides of the street. One thing that is so interesting, if you watch the Olympics, you’ll know. The people did clap at times, but they mostly whistled.

At times between the clapping and whistling, corps members could hardly hear the commands or even communicate between themselves. They even did this when they came to parade rest and to attention.

It was a real experience and one no one in the organization will ever forget. In the hotel and at the parade was a priest from the Boston area who at one time was stationed at St. Kevin’s in Dorchester, MA, home of the St. Kevin’s Emerald Knights. His name is Father Thomas J. Reilly, no relation.

He made a comment that the Reilly Raiders corps was the ONLY musical group to play Irish music and that when the corps approached the judging area, the announcer made a comment, “Now here comes a very serious looking group, and from the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, the Reilly Raiders of Willow Grove, PA.”

The next two events on the agenda kind of went hand-in-hand. The first was a visit to the Castle of Ireland, the Guinness Brewery. Everybody got a free pint. It’s very interesting that you can view the entire city from the top of the tower while drinking your one or two or, you know, those pints.

When the corps left Dublin, they went to Bunratty, County Clare, where they had a farewell dinner and banquet with entertainment in the Bunratty Medieval Castle, which was built in 1425. What a way to end a dream, winning the drum corps division in Dublin, receiving a plaque for participating, the people the group met, and the friendships that they have made.

This is something that everyone involved will never forget, especially fulfilling the “Impossible dream.”