How Potatoes led to Bagpipes at Police Officers’ Funerals

An extension of the Honor Guard, the bagpipes are played at officers’ funerals.  When police honors are requested at a law enforcement officer’s funeral, several services are offered. The PPD offers pall bearers, an honor guard over the casket during the wake and during the funeral, folding and presentation of the U. S. Flag at the graveside, Taps played by bugle, Amazing Grace played by bagpipes, occasionally a 21-gun salute, and the last call on the radio. Very moving to witness.

Playing bagpipes at the funerals of, not only Scots, but all Celtic people, is a long-standing tradition. It is often said to release the emotions like no other instrument, which brings about the healing process for family members.

In Ireland in 1845, a Phytophthora Infestans organism ruined half of the potato crops in Ireland and ¾ of the crops for the next seven years. Known as the Potato Famine or The Great Hunger, the plague caused many Irish families to flee their native land for the United States. Arriving in the northeastern cities such as New York, Boston, etc., work was hard to find. What was available was the dangerous jobs of policing and firefighting. Soon, it was common to associate a policeman or a fireman with the Irish.

When an Irish police officer or firefighter passed away, the bagpipes were often requested by their native families. The distinct sound of the instrument could be heard across entire cemeteries as the officers mourned their dead.

Soon, families of all derivations began requesting the bagpipes be played. Police and fire departments across the nation even organized bagpipe bands. Those traditions still exist today.

When the Pensacola Police Honor Guard formed, the demand for their services greatly increased. As a result, a bagpiper, usually Wayne Willis, was often asked to serve. Wayne was eventually issued a uniform with a badge, insignia and Honor Guard patches.

When a piper plays the bagpipes at a funeral for the Pensacola Police Department, he usually wears the uniform. However, instead of the traditional uniform pants, he wears a kilt, with a distinctive tartan pattern, and a sporran (bag) in the front.

Playing of the bagpipes at police funerals is a tradition loved by many. A comforting resonance, the pipes at a funeral seem to…make it complete.

Mike

#oldpolicestories

Officer Lonnie Isom and Pensacola Police Bagpiper Wayne Willis pose after the 2011 Pensacola Police Law Enforcement Memorial ceremony. The ceremony, conducted every year, memorializes officers who were killed in the line of duty.

Published by Mike Simmons

I am a retired sergeant with the Pensacola Police Department. I currently work as a coordinator at the George Stone Criminal Justice Training Center. I am married to the former Jerri Crabtree. We have three grown children and seven grandchildren. I volunteer with a boys' mentoring program known as "Royal Rangers."

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