Why do they play bagpipes at police funerals?

This is in response to Cecil’s reference to the movie Braveheart in the column about bagpipes being used at police funerals. I am not an expert in bagpipes, but I know that there are many different kinds, and as a musician and frequent listener of bagpipe music I noticed something strange about the bagpipe and funeral scene in the movie. The pipes being played appeared to be Scottish highland pipes (the most recognizable), yet the sound is definitely that of the Uillean pipes, also called the Irish bagpipes. Again, bagpipes come in many different shapes, sizes, playing styles, and sounds, but this part of the movie bothered me because of the inaccuracy.

Welcome! Nitpicking bagpipes? You are going to fit right in.

Column in question (it’s usually considered polite to include a link to the column): http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/1281/why-do-they-play-bagpipes-at-police-funerals

Ah, thanks, I shall do so in the future

I assumed they made the mourners listen to bagpipes to show the departed that there are things far worse than being dead.

EvanF–glad you’re here!

A bagpipe aficionado will feel right at home among the iconoclasts, nitpickers, wool-gatherers & other human woodpeckers here at the SDMB. :slight_smile:

That must make the departed feel very relieved


Why were so many of the cops Irish?

Immigration demographics.

Which included Italians, Germans, Puerto Ricans, Asians, etc.

Is that the new name for nepotism?

A little more seriously, however… I don’t know if I can describe this clearly, but here goes:

To me, a bagpipe dirge simply has a good harmony with grieving, and so is appropriate to most all funerals. Many parts of the sound are rough, others discordant - possibly only to my unsophisticated ears - and the whole is awfully complex. And that all fits well with grieving. When the bagpipes are played well, there is, nevertheless, a clear, striking melody - and that fits well with a funeral, as well.

It all works. For me, at least.

Bagpipes at a Vulcan’s funeral is a bit over the top.

There’s nothing wrong with nepotism as long as it stays in the family.

Discrimination. For a long time, the only employment open to Irish immigrants was the dirty, hazardous jobs no one else wanted. Police work fell into that category; so did the US Army. The cavalry that “won the West” was one-third Irish.

I suspect that it’s because highland pipes look right, but Uilleann pipes just sound better. YMMV, IMHO and all that.

Braveheart wasn’t exactly known for its historical accuracy!

Exactly right. But a good pick up by the OP.

And in case you wonder why they use Highland pipes in St Patrick’s day parades (and other Irish related things) it’s because Uilleann pipes aren’t particularly good to march with (according to piping friend when I asked her).

Perhaps it was the green skin.

Cecil is out by a century or so in this comment:

Bagpipes were indeed in a parlous state two centuries ago, as a result of the Highland clearances during the 18th century and the prohibitions on Highland customs that followed the 1745 uprising. What saved the pipes was that those prohibitions did not apply to the Highland regiments. Piping was allowed and encouraged within the Highland regiments. As a result, piping became heavily linked to military traditions and preserved in that way. By the turn of the 20th century, piping was by no means a dying art, nor was it resuscitated by Irish cops in the US.

Indeed. The Uilleann pipesare designed to be played sitting down, with the bellows that fills the bag strapped to the chest and arm that is used to work it. “Uilleann” means “elbow”, referring to this method of inflating the bag.

While this is true, it is also true that the Irish in the US in the 1840s–50s were the gangbangers of the time (I’m not enough of a historian to say just how accurate the film Gangs of New York was, but the gross situation portrayed is close enough). The lower-class Irish of the time who were ashamed of it all found joining the police force the obvious route to fighting their way out of it.