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Why are bagpipes played at funerals?

Originally published under Ask Mr. History. Published Online: February 26, 2013 
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Why are Scottish bagpipes played at funerals for policemen and firefighters?


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Dear Elsa,  

Playing bagpipes and uillean pipes at funerals is a longstanding tradition among Irish and Scots that came to the New World wholesale during the potato famine. Denied all but the toughest and most dangerous jobs at a time when they were viewed by the predominant Anglo-American population much the way Mexicans are today, Irishmen tended to dominate the fire houses and police in New York, Boston and other east coast metropolises. When someone died in the course of these dangerous duties, they were given a sendoff that reflected the sentiments of their comrades—and also, quite likely, to remind everyone else of just who was protecting them from fire and crime. The Scottish bagpipe came to eclipse the uillean pipe primarily because it was louder. From those roots the bagpipe evolved into an American tradition for police and fire fighters, regardless of ethnicity today.



Jon Guttman
Research Director
Weider History Group
More Questions at Ask Mr. History


One Response to “Why are bagpipes played at funerals?”

  1. 1
    Kathleen Dawson says:

    I think the bagpipes also have an advantage over the uillean pipes because they can be played while marching. If you've ever seen the Chieftains perform, the uillean pipes are resting on the thigh and held under the arm. They look like they would be difficult to play while standing or while marching.

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