Back at the AOH post-parade, the steam table is manned by six elderly Irishwomen in aprons, ladling out slabs of corned beef, steaming cabbage, carrots, and bread and butter to the throng on line (overwhelmingly male); the Irish soda bread (two kinds—white and brown) is already in baskets at the tables. Four other grandmotherly types circulate, working the lineup of the hungry, handing out pieces of soda bread like nurses tending to weary warriors as they stumble in from the battlefield. Two even older ladies—beatifically smiling, wrinkled faces—take your money at the entrance to the Hall, and push the raffle tickets: 3 for $5, you win a Basket of Cheer (what else?). The twelve of them—a Band of Good Faeries.
There’s entertainment. A kilted bagpiper is on a dais upfront. I pay attention as he describes his instrument, a two-drone bagpipe. A drone is the bag and he has to blow it up to play and as he demonstrates you realize what a perfect name is “drone”—pure onomatopoeia! Its range is merely nine notes but an experienced piper can “whiffle” to enhance the tune. Then, for the next twenty-five minutes, he plays—The Galway Piper, The Rakes of Clonmel, The Minstrel Boy, The Garry Owen, ending with the only one I can name, Amazing Grace. Marvelous! Stirring! And very loud! As the pipers played when the Irish faced the English down the Centuries. Queen Elizabeth I, when told that the Irish fought more fiercely on hearing the pipes, decreed death for their playing. Later, Cromwell would let you live but minus your fingers. In 1745, after the Battlle of Culloden, any Scot caught with a bagpipe was hung. The bagpiper, who led the Celtic armies into battle, was honored as the bravest of men, with the shortest of life expectancies.
Makes me wonder if there were English pipers?
© 2014 Robert Knightly