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HISTORY

Birkirkara is one of the oldest places in the Maltese Islands. Malta is the island in the middle of the Mediterrenean Sea, mentioned in Acts 28:1 where St.Paul the Apostle on his way to Rome was shipwrecked. Birkirkara`s situation is three miles away from Valletta, the capital city and about four and a half miles away from Mdina, the old city. The neighboring villages, which formerly formed part of this place in Malta are Lia, Attard, Balzan, St.Venera, Msida, St.Julians, Sliema, Gzira etc. The older part of Birkirkara still treasures houses of character, windmills, hitorical places, wayside chapels, two towers and other interesting dwellings. The major part of Birkirkara in the past, was considered as a rural area. Different parts of this village are hundreds of feet above sea level, while others are under hundred feet. Msida, which used to form part of Birkirkara is at sea level.


As far as 1402, Birkirkara was juridically considered as a parish. A chapel was built in honour of St.Helena. Its ruins are still found in the coutyard of a junior Franciscan Parish School at the outskirts of modern Birkirkara. A second and a later on a third parish temple had to be erected.


In this third temple the Collegiate Chapter in honour of Saint Helen was erected in 1630 by Pope Urbanus VIII. The parish Priest was Dr. Dun Filippo Borgia, a learned ecclesiastic and a reliable cleric well versed in civil and ecclesiastical law. It must be remembered that at those times, the Grand Master, the Inquisitor and the Bishop were all foreigners.
In the early 18th Century (1727) another temple had to be built. This is a masterpiece in baroque architecture. It began being used for liturgical purposes in 1745 and was consecrated by Bishop Fra Vincenzo Labini in 1782. This temple treasure works of art, which were donated by benefactors, during the years. Perhaps the most precious is the sculptured statue of St.Helena by Salvu Psaila in 1837. The Birkirkara born Censu Borg blockade, donated the statue to the Parish. His coat of arms was sculptured in the plinth of the statue. The feast of the Patron Saint is celebrated on the Sunday following the 18th August, a date expected by parishioners, even those emigrated. Several tourists plan their holidays to include the festa period.


Saint Helena as the Patron Saint One of the most popular names in Birkirkara is Helen. Many females are named Helen or Elaine or Eileen. Eleno is also popular among male parishioners. We find several wayside niches dedicated to this saint. Streets, houses, villas are named Helen. The main Parish Square in front of the Basilica bears its name. This title was granted to the Temple in January 1950 by Pope Pacelli (Pius XII). One of the three philarmonic societies is called St.Helena Band Club. The band plays an important part in the village festa, alternating with the Duke of Connaught`s Own Band Club according to an agreed roster. To the saint`s honour several hyms were composed and set to music. The most popular ones are the one written for St.Helena`s Band Club by Chev. Gius. Dimech Debono and set to music by the Bandmaster Mro. Chev. Josephthe other by Can. Dr. Giavanni Bugeja set to music by Mro. Raffaele Ricci for the Duke of Connaught`s Own Band. Previosly it was set to music by the Bandmaster Tommaso Galea.

There is another version of the hymn by the late Paul Caruana set to music by the author and donated to the Chapter. Canon Joseph Camilleri composed the music for another popular hymn after providing the words. For the person versed in Latin Literature, the known poet Dun Guzepp Zammit Brighella wrote the hymn Optata lux solemnibus.


Several emigrants still treasure their devotion to the Saint. In Australia former Birkirkara parishioners founded the St.Helen`s Maltese australian Social Club Melbourne and the organisers do every effort to celebrate here. They managed to have a large statue of St.Helena which is carried on shoulders in a religious procession.

Duke of Connaught`s Own Band

The Duke of Connaught`s Own Band Club, the first band club in Birkirkara, was oficially formed in 1865 and was known as `Socjeta Filarmoneka Sant` Elena. However, a certain Mr. Karm Borg had already been giving lessons to a group of youths with the intention of forming a Philharmonic Society. Some two yeasrs after, Maestro Tumas Galea took over, and eventually in 1865, the band club was formed.


Under Maestro Galea, the band`s repertoire was enhanced with numerous operatic compositions and symphonies. In 1872, Mro. Galea composed the first `Innu di Gloria` , dedicated to Birkirkara`s patron saint, Sant`Elena. This was performed in public for the first time, in the same year, on the eve of the village feast. The occasion had the patronage of the then Governor Straubenzee and Mrs. Straubanzee.


In 1880 the band was known as the `Societa Filarmonica di Birkirkara`. The club`s archive show that the first club president in 1883, was Mr. Costantino Fenech, a legal prosecutor by profession.


In 1889, the band club had another change in name to 'Alleanza'. After the death of Mro. Galea, the club`s president took over, till 1894, with the appointment of Mro. Anton Micallef.


In 1898, Mro. Raffaele Ricci, composed a new Hymn to Sant`Helena, which was well recieved by the public. This was performed in public for the first time in 1900.


Yet again, the band club had another change in name in 1902. The club`s president at that time was Dr. Alfred Parnis. During this time, Queen Victoria`s son, Prince Arthur, the Duke of Connaught, used to be a frequent visitor to the islands, in his capacity as General Inspector of the British Forces in the Mediterranean.


The band club was discussing a new uniform and the plans were for a military uniform. A delegation from the band committee met the Duke of Connaught and informed him of these plan, which were approved. He also suggested that the band could, if wanted, adopt his name.


During a club general meeting, the decision was taken to change the band`s name to `Circolo Sant`Elena e Filarmonica Duke of Connaught`, a name which remains to this day.


The band has participated in some of the most important occasions of the village. In 1905, the band took part in the festivities when Bishop Pace inaugurated the Basilica`s dome paintings, and in the same year, the band also was invited to take part in the National festivities around the coronation of bormla`s titular feast dedicated to the Immaculate Conception.
Again in 1910, the band was part of the festive activities organised for the coronation of Birkirkara`s Madonna Tal-Herba. In 1913, the band led the celebrations organised for the International Euchristic Congress held in Malta.


In 1919, the band`s president was Tommaso Fenech. During that year, some band members wanted to take over the club, but the coup was not successful. However this incident resulted in that these band members formed another band club under the name of Banda Sant`Elena.


In 1920, Dr. Francesco Buhagiar was elected as club president. Dr. Buhagiar, contested the 1921 general election on behalf of the Unione Politica Maltese. In 1923 he was elected as Malta`s Prime Minister.


The band also performed abroad in a number of occasions, in 1926 in Villa Bellini in Sicily and in 1930 in Noto, again in Sicily.


The band club paticipated wholly during the centenary celebrations marking the death of the patron Sant`Elena, in A.D. 328 and in 1932 the band accompanied the main bell which was to be installed in the Basilica.


In 1938, the band club had new premises, in Triq il Wied, where the band operatesfrom till this very day. During the second world war, the band continued with music lessons for its band members, but parts of the club war requisitioned for social purposes.


Malta took Independence from the British in 1964. The band took part in activities and under the direction of Mro. Carmelo Brincat, was the last Maltese band to perform the English National Anthem before Malta was declared Independent. From the morrow, the Maltese National Anthem started to be played on National Activities.


In 1957, Dr. Joe Fenech was elected President for 12 years. In 1973 he was re-elected as President and is still occupying this post to this day.


Some time after May 1977, Mro. Emmanuel Brincat resigned from the post of band director, and Mro. Andrew Coleiro took over. He still occupies this post.


Under the guidance of Mro. Coleiro, the band added some firsts for a Maltese band, the most noteworthy in 1991, a performance in Corradino Prisons for the inmates, something that was never done before. The band also had more foreign recognitions as in 1995 in Italy (Sorrento) and in the 2000 the band performed during a Maltese Carnival in Tunisia (Neboul).


The Society has never looked back, and till this very day, the Committee members strive to better the club`s environment, but most important of all, to enhance the band`s repertoire.

 
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