Where Did the Tradition of Playing Bagpipes at the Funerals of Police Officers and Firefighters Originate?

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In the 1800s, Irish immigrants met with widespread discrimination, and only the least desirable jobs were available to them: firefighting and policing. In Ireland, bagpipes were typical at all funerals.

The sad sound from the pipes brought dignity to solemn occasions and allowed expression-hardened public servants an opportunity to display grief for fallen friends in a perfectly acceptable way. The mournful sounds may also have served as a reminder to those who discriminated against them that it was the Irish protecting them. It was not unusual for several firefighters to die in one incident. The tribute was so moving, families of non-immigrants began to request bagpipes at funerals.

Traditional bagpipe melodies at firefighter and police funerals include "Flowers of the Forest" and "Lament for Children." "Amazing Grace" is popular, but not considered traditional. In the 1970s, a group of Scots Guards toured America and adapted the hymn to bagpipes.

The Emerald Society bagpipe troupes are associated with Boston, Chicago, New York and Philadelphia and serve as pipers at firefighter and police funerals, no matter the ethnicity. The bands consist of 60 members wearing traditional kilt and tunic, Scottish clan tartan kilts, Irish single-color kilt or simple Irish uniforms. The tradition became universal.