Thank God for the Bagpipers

“Thank God for the bagpipers.” Those six words of gratitude were whispered repeatedly as hundreds of pipers and drummers fell out after a memorial ceremony for public safety officers killed by the terrorist attacks of 2001. 

This phrase is heard more often today as pipers and drummers continue comfort, honor and inspire others with their unique music.   

The origins of the pipes trace back to around 1000 BC. Over the centuries, the bagpipes became common features of both Scottish and Irish cultures while becoming venerable sources of communication, entertainment and mourning. When British imperial power ruled most of the world, bagpipers marched along with her military regiments throughout the globe. That grand tradition continues today.   

Contemporary police pipers tend to favor the Great Highland Bagpipes and are usually accompanied by drummers playing bass, side or tenor drums. Drum Majors lead the bands along the avenue while Pipe Majors coordinate the music and Pipe Sergeants attend to the marching. 

Units proudly differentiate themselves by means of special uniforms, headgear, kilt patterns (tartans), plaids and arm patches. As self-supporting entities, most police pipe bands exist only to honor fallen comrades while staying true to the honorable heritage of their Gaelic ancestors.   

Irish and Scottish immigrants brought the pipes to this country during the 19th century. Around 1960, members of the New York Police Emerald Society took the initial step to blend Celtic bagpipe culture into American law enforcement. Today more than 100 law enforcement bagpipe bands exist throughout the country including in Albany, Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland, Las Vegas, San Diego and Seattle.

Thanks to Craig Floyd, Executive Director of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C., police bagpipe bands now play an important role in various aspects of the annual law enforcement memorial services annually each May in the national capitol. The coupling of bagpipers and Police Week was also supported by the leadership of the National Conference of Law EnforcementEmerald Societies (NCLEES) in Washington, D.C. and the Concerns of Police Survivors (COPS).

Few community policing programs have a bigger positive impact on the locals than a police bagpipe and drum band. Pipers and drummers make excellent agency ambassadors as they travel around the country to perform, especially when they are supporting other law enforcement agencies in time of need. This type of professional unity reflects an extremely important and positive aspect of the “thin blue line” concept. 

If your department is in need of a police bagpiper to honor a fallen officer, contact the NCLEES. Staffers will attempt to find a local bagpipe unit to assist with the funeral or procession.

Many mourners have been comforted by wailing bagpipes accompanied by the soft slow beats of a bass drum as someone they deeply loved is honored and memorialized by these wonderful men and women. So the next time you see them perform, please don’t forget to say “Thank God for the bagpipers.”


Chief J.T. McBride (ret) is a bagpiper with the Cleveland Police Pipes and Drums and a Founding Father of the Greater Cleveland Police Emerald Society. He may be reached at

Published in Law and Order, Apr 2014

Rating : 9.0

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Proud civilian pipe band member

Posted on : May 24 at 4:37 PM By Ingrid Marroquin

Great article and pictures. I'm a civilian snare drummer in the Nevada Emerald Society Pipes and Drums, and it's always such an honor to play at memorial events, last week's ceremony at Police Memorial Park was no exception. It's always so tragic to think about the events that have taken so many officers but it gives me such satisfaction to know that our music consoles those in the healing process. Thank you for your service.


Posted on : May 6 at 9:18 PM By Tom Wetzel

Special piece Chief McBride. The sounds of bagpipes immediately evoke a variety of powerful emotions. God speaks to us through music.

Heavenly sounds

Posted on : Apr 30 at 9:51 PM By

The"heavenly sounds"of the bagpipers are heard across the nation as
our fallen officers are honored. What a great service the pipers provide
to the law enforcement community. Thanks to all of them for their service!!!
Thanks to Chief McBride (ret) for the GREAT article and the photo that accompanied the article. THANK GOD FOR THE BAGPIPERS!!!!!!!!

Great service

Posted on : Apr 30 at 7:51 PM By

Bagpipes produce a very special and unique sound that evoke deep emotions in everyone. I want to say thank you to everyone who takes the time and effort to learn this complex instrument. Thank God for the Bagpipers.

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