Why Are Bagpipes Played at Firefighters’ Funerals?

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The history of bagpipes in the fire service traces back over one hundred and fifty years to the traditions and customs of Irish immigrants.

In the 1800’s the Great Potato Famine ravaged the Celtic nations. Hundreds of Irish immigrants made their way to the east coast of the United States, bringing with them their traditional bagpipe music.

While Irish immigrants were able to escape the famine, they faced discrimination in the United States. Housing was difficult to find and many businesses would not hire Irishmen. The only jobs these immigrants were able to find were as firefighters or policemen – the jobs that most people thought of as undesirable, dirty, and dangerous. During this time it was not uncommon for several firefighters to die each day while on duty. The Irish firefighter’s funeral was typical of all Irish funerals and included the traditional bagpipe music.

The bagpipes haunting and mournful sounds added grandeur to solemn funeral services, soon families of non-Irish firefighters began asking for the pipes to be played for all fallen heroes. Today, the bagpipe is undoubtedly intertwined with the fire service, with bagpipe bands of 60+ members being a common sight at most fire houses. Together, these musicians honor their fallen heroes, as well as their profession’s noble history.

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