Potatoes and Bagpipes


Published: March 27, 2019

What do potatoes and bagpipes have in common?

It all began when the Irish fled to the New World escaping the Great Potato Famine in the 1840’s. The New World was predominantly populated by Anglo-Americans whom were less than accepting of the Irish; not surprising considering the friction between England and Ireland for centuries. Common in the storefronts and factories was a sign that read “NINA” or “No Irish Need Apply,” making it difficult for the Irish immigrants to obtain work. The toughest and most dangerous jobs were where Irishmen tended to be employed, essentially dominating the firehouses and police stations.

Just as the belongings in their bags, the Irish brought their deep-rooted Celtic traditions, including playing the bagpipes at weddings and funerals. Since the death toll was incredibly high for first responders, a funeral was a frequent occurrence during this time. The families of the fallen Irishman spared no shortcuts when one of their own was killed, including playing the bagpipes. It has also been said the somber bagpipe music served as a reminder to the town who was protecting and serving them. The traditional Irish uilleann pipes were exchanged with the Great Highland bagpipes, a Scottish instrument as they cast a larger sound. Soon enough, families of non-Irish decent asked for bagpipes to be played at their funerals as well.

The tradition spans times as bagpipes are still utilized for fallen first responders today, nearly 180 years later. However, it is without prejudice. St. Patrick’s Day in 1956, the Emerald Society was founded, a group of public safety officers whom carry on the tradition of playing the pipes at funerals. They are represented nationally with nearly 8,000 members, carrying on the traditions honorably.

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