Amazing Grace, Bagpipes & Fire Service

This post could also be entitled: I’m Singing a Version of Amazing Grace at Church This Morning and While Procrastinating my Rehearsing This Past Week I Researched the History of Amazing Grace and the Bagpipes as They Apply to the Fire Service. But that’s an awfully long title, don’t you think?

Police & Fire Pipes & DrumsIf you’ve ever had the misfortune of attending a fire service or police funeral, you may have heard Amazing Grace being played on the bagpipes. Other songs can and have been played but Amazing Grace remains the most popular pick for the funerals of our fallen protectors. I wondered why. The history of the bagpipes and their use in fire (and police) service funerals is interesting.

I learned the history over at Lonestar Piper. Basically, in the 1880’s when the Irish immigrants were experiencing horrible discrimination in the country, they couldn’t get jobs. A sign that read “NINA” in the window of a factory or store meant, “No Irish Need Apply.” As such, they were left to work the dangerous, dirty jobs that no one else wanted: fire service and police work. Back then, it was common to have several deaths on each fire. As such, their funerals were typical of other Irish funerals at the time and the bagpipes were played. Today, as the site says, “the tradition is universal and not just for the Irish or Scottish. The bagpipes have become a distinguishing feature of a fallen hero’s funeral.” Again, that site has a very nice write up about the history and I encourage you to read it.

Interestingly, a man named Tim Birr is working on a documentary about bagpipes and the fire service entitled, none other than, Amazing Grace. While it doesn’t seem to have been released yet, the site Fire Pipes and Drums has links to many of the existing fire pipers. The book Bagpipe Brothers by Kelly Sheridan features FDNY and the aftermath of 9/11. As Tim Birr pointed out, there’s not a real tell-all about the history of the bagpipes other than minor blurbs here and there on the web. I’m hoping the documentary is finished sometime soon. I know we’d love to add it to our video library.

The song Amazing Grace remains one of FireDad’s favorite hymns. And mine. When choosing a song to sing this summer, I bumped around a couple of ideas. I rested with singing this song for various reasons. It’s an emotional tune for me, even without the history of the fire service wrapped around it. While I don’t think my version is as haunting as the sound coming from this video, I acknowledge and honor those for whom these pipes sing. This particular video honors Billy McCarthy (Boston Fire). (Rest in Peace.)

We’ve been lucky, I’ll admit. While we’ve attended military funerals, tears sliding down our cheeks as the notes of Taps rang out, we haven’t yet heard the bagpipes play for a fellow firefighter. We hope, of course, that when we finally do it will be at the celebration of a long life well-lived and not due to an on-duty death. Until that time, we will continue to hold the history of the bagpipes close to our hearts as well as the old favorite hymn.

(I hope I make it through the song this morning…)

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[Photo Credit.]

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5 Comments

  1. Hey! I am friends with Damion from Lone Star Piper. He is a great guy and an awesome piper! He and another good friend of mine host an annual pipes & drums and honor guard training every year. On one of the nights, they have a big play-off. There are like 200 band members and they just play songs for two hours. There is one tune they play called Cajun Grace. It’s a sped up version of Amazing Grace and it’s so awesome. Here is a Youtube link to a band playing it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a2ISYvQLcKY Although it’s much better to hear it in person. Just wanted to share!
    .-= Wendy. T´s last blog ..27 Months Old =-.

    Reply
  2. I know you did great! Amazing Grace has always been one of my favorites. I’ve told everyone in my life who might need to know that I want this song played *at least* a dozen times at my own funeral – that way there won’t be a dry eye in the house. In fact, I get goose-bumpy just thinking of the song…

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  3. I hope you never have to hear Amazing Grace at a Firefighters Funeral.

    It is one of the hardest things about our profession. To bury your own, Its hard! I remember when I was 11 or 12, I went with my father to a Firefighters funeral In Washington D.C. That firefighter had fallen into an elevator shaft. One of the Other firefighters was holding on to him and he slipped out of his running coat and fell to his death. A few months later another firefighter fell of the side of the Engine Company and passed away.

    I cant tell you how many funerals Ive been to in the Washington DC metro area in the past 20 years. It is definitely a wake up call. I know every time I go to work I promise myself EVERYONE GOES HOME! No matter what!

    You can read about some of those here…
    http://www.dcfd.com/lodd.htm

    God Bless!!
    .-= The Outlaw Firefighter´s last blog ..Ouch!! =-.

    Reply
  4. Thankfully my family also plays the pipes for happy times, so I’ve heard them at weddings as well.

    I’d also like to thank the Seattle pipes and drums for joining us a year ago for the party after the funeral. They played incredibly at the funeral for our Chief and I can’t imagine making it through something so emotional and playing so well. Then they also came to our private party after and really did it up. They did play amazing grace again and we all toasted the Chief, but they also played some kick butt tunes and helped us all with their music.

    I’m Irish, you don’t play Amazing Grace on the pipes without me crying at the first note.
    .-= Val´s last blog ..Vacations Must Stop! =-.

    Reply
  5. When my cousin (a fire chief) died, the piper playing Amazing grace and walking off into the distance was one of the most beautiful and heart-wrenching things I have ever seen or heard.
    .-= Gina´s last blog ..Back to Reality SUCKS =-.

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