Dover Fire Pipes and Drums to lead St. Patrick’s Day Parade

The Dover Fire Department Pipes and Drums will be at the front of the line among the 64 entities participating in the 21st edition of Dover’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade down Loockerman Street at 1 p.m. From left are Remy Goch, Joey Moran, Ryan Knowles, David Truax, Mike O’Connor and Tim Kline. Not pictured are William Franz, Dallas Mackenzie, Tim Buff, Jake Carpenter, Josh Reese, Doug Duke and Mike O’Connor. (Submitted photo)

DOVER — More often than not it’s a somber event that brings the Dover Fire Department Pipes and Drums outfit together.

They usually get out their bagpipes and drums and put on their kilts and Irish-flavored uniforms to honor firefighters, police officers and military members who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

But Saturday will be different.

On that day the Dover Fire Pipes and Drums will be among the 64 entities participating in the 21st edition of Dover’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade down Loockerman Street at 1 p.m. — and they will be right at the front of the line.

Pipe Major Mike O’Connor, William Frantz, Joey Moran and Mike O’Connor III are the four original members of the pipes and drum group who are still active.

Mr. O’Connor said it takes a special kind of dedication to perform in the organization, which made its debut at Dover’s 2013 St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

“Our motto says it all — ‘Braithre Thar Gach Ni’ — Gaelic for ‘Brotherhood Before All,’” he said. “Your heart has to be in it for the right reason. You need to have a deep passion. It has to be something you are driven to do — and a day without it is painful.”

The Dover Fire Pipes and Drums currently has six pipers, with three in training, as well as four drummers with one in training. The group is made up of firemen, police, 911 communications and military members.

“Being in a bagpipe band is definitely something that you want to do and not something you have to do,” said Pipe Sergeant Mr. Moran. “You have to put in an extraordinary amount of time each and every day to learn and maintain playing of the instrument.

“It is a true commitment, considering the instruments range anywhere from $700 to $3,000. So if you’re willing to put that kind of money out to play an instrument, dedication is a must.”

The Dover Fire Department Pipes and Drums made their debut at the Dover St. Patrick’s Day Parade in 2013. (Submitted photo)

The Dover Fire Pipes and Drums marching tunes for Saturday’s parade will include its Irish Set No. 1 (“Let Erin Remember” and “Minstrel Boy”), Irish Set No. 2 (“Sean South” and “Wrap the Green Flag”) and Irish Set No. 3 (“When Irish Eyes are Smiling” and “Wild Rover”).

And once the parade is finished, their day will just be getting started. They will also be playing various other tunes at Sheridan’s Irish Pub in Smyrna that afternoon and a pub crawl in Milford in the evening.

While festive times like St. Patrick’s Day are few and far between for the bagpipe outfit, they still relish their job, even in the most difficult of circumstances.

“First and foremost, we are a service band that renders honors to those who go before us, whether it be fire, law enforcement or military,” Mr. O’Connor said. “It takes a huge commitment, not only monetarily, but several hours weekly invested in time practicing.

“We have recently started to practice about once a month with the Delaware State Police Pipes and Drums. This ensures a seamless performance when we join forces to honor a departed member. Unfortunately, something we did all too often in 2017.”

Perhaps the most touching moment of a tribute performed by the Dover Fire Pipes and Drums is when they play the hymn “Amazing Grace” and a lone member marches away from the group and continues to play solo at the end of the number.

“There is no poignant meaning to it, other than being steeped in tradition,” Mr. O’Connor said. “The fire service is big on tradition. It just puts the perfect cap on the tune that the pipes are famous for.

“Slowly walking off into the distance, the tune being carried off with the wind. It’s very touching. I like doing it because I don’t have to watch the family in tears. It’s not only emotional for the family, but us as well. If you don’t get a little choked up, you don’t have a soul.”

The Dover Fire Pipes and Drums had around 30 performances last year, playing at numerous funerals, Line of Death for both fire and police, promotion ceremonies, events for the Vietnam veterans, Memorial Day ceremonies, parades and several other events.

“The amount of events have picked up for us lately, but we will average about 30 events a year I would say,” Mr. Moran said. “I really don’t keep track of them. I just love bagpiping, so I make as many as possible.”

Learning to play the bagpipes is not an easy task. It took Mr. O’Connor five years or so to learn to play them proficiently and it’s still never easy.

“It’s kind of like wrestling a cat,” said Mr. O’Connor. “It only has nine notes, how hard can it be? They say you become an accomplished player after doing so for approximately five years.

The Dover Police and Fire Pipes and Drums led the way during the 2016 St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Dover. This year’s parade steps off Saturday in Dover. (Delaware State News file photo)

“The bagpipes are a lot like a relationship. If you don’t pay attention to them on a daily basis, it will turn around and bite you in the arse.”

Then, of course, there is always the never-ending questions the band members receive when it comes to their kilts.

“People just do not understand why they see grown men in a kilt and all they can do is stare and laugh sometimes,” Mr. Moran said.

Mr. O’Connor said the kilt is always a big topic of conversation when it comes to the group’s members.

“No matter where we stop, whether it be to get coffee, gas or something to eat, it’s always the same thing – what’s under the kilt?,” he said. “Older women are the worst, they have no problem just coming over and lifting our kilts to look for themselves.

“My granddaughter says my kilt is my princess skirt. Our tartan is the Wallace Hunting. We chose that because it has the colors of the city of Dover seal in it.”

St. Patrick’s Day Parade

The Downtown Dover Partnership will be presenting a combined St. Patrick’s Festival and Parade downtown for the second consecutive year.

The festival, which proved popular in its first year in 2017, will return to Loockerman Way Plaza from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m.

“We will have food trucks, vendors to shop with, kids activities, entertainment and an information table about everything happening downtown,” said Tina Bradbury, operations manager for the DDP. “It was very successful last year. It brings more people down and gives people a chance to get together.”

Meanwhile, the parade lineup will take place at South West Street and South Kirkwood Street. The parade will start there and head east on Loockerman Street all the way down to Federal Street where it will end.

The performance area and judge’s stand will be at the corner of Loockerman and South Bradford Street.

Jennifer Cohan, the secretary of the Delaware Department of Transportation, will serve as the grand marshal.

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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