Robert Symington, who had been a military man, came from Exeter to reside in Dundonald around the year 1870. He was a senior member and partner in Messrs. Symington and Kirkwood & Company, Linen Merchants, 47 Queen Street, Belfast.
The family home in Dundonald was Rockfield Lodge, a fine stately home situated in the plantation at Quarry Corner, Ballyoran. He was a worshipper at Dundonald Presbyterian Church, being Clerk of Session and also Sabbath School Superintendent from 1879 to 1895.
In 1898 Symington realised that young boys and teenagers needed something to occupy them so he formed a Boys’ Brigade Company in Dundonald, later called the 1st Dundonald County Down Company. He also formed a church choir. History records that at the time this was not a very popular decision, but gradually the Church began to accept it and today, a century later, the Presbyterian Church Choir continues to flourish.
Symington felt that more than drill was required for the boys of the Boys’ Brigade so, being musical, he started a flute band and supplied the flutes at his own expense. The band was known throughout the area as The Brigade Band, and this is the real beginning of our story.
Between 1900 and 1905 he had the idea of trying to bring together bands from different areas. With, his friends the late Charles Rollins and the late Johnny Murdie he made contact with all the bands of Belfast City, a venture that involved travelling by bicycle at night throughout Belfast. In 1907 a new organization called The North of Ireland Flute Band Association was formed, with Robert Symington as its first Chairman.
The Band entered its first contest in 1906. Success was to come just two years later in 1908 when the Band won a beautiful Mace Pole in a contest in Holywood. This was carried with pride by various drum majors until the mid seventies when it was laid aside for posterity.Further success followed in 1911 when the band became junior champions, playing a piece of music entitled "Bohemian Girl" and conducted by the late Johnny Murdie. The photograph records the band , cup, medals and also some of the other well known Dundonald connections; the Morrows, the McConnells and the late Tom McConnell who was the owner of the Moat Bar and President of the Symington Band for over fifty years until his death in 1975.
Robert Symington died in 1923 and was buried in Balmoral Cemetery. Later that same year the members decided to change the bands name to Symington Memorial Flute Band in memory of their founder. As a mark of respect, The North of Ireland Bands Association presented a silver cup, The Symington Cup, that is still competed for and is presented annually to the winner of the intermediate brass section.Symington_2c
In 1951 the decision to change from flute to brass instrumentation was debated and in December 1951 what had been the Symington Memorial Flute Band became the Symington Memorial Silver Band and a new era had begun.
Symington Memorial Silver Band made its first public appearance in on Sunday 16th June 1952 leading LOL 1056 from Dundonald Orange Hall to the Presbyterian Church. In 1998 the band celebrated its centenary and today it’s still going strong, a memorial to Robert Symington’s vision.