Olson: St. Pat’s is prime time for pipers

Published: Saturday, March 16, 2013 5:30 a.m.CDT
Caption
(Submitted photo)
Tom Murphy plays the bagpipes at a Sept. 11 ceremony a couple of years ago. Murphy, a captain with the DeKalb Fire Department, will be busy performing around the area for St. Patrick's Day.

St. Patrick’s Day is a time for bagpipers such as Tom Murphy to shine – without someone having to die first.

Murphy’s a fire captain with the DeKalb Fire Department with 20 years of service, and one of three firefighting bagpipers in“The Firefighters Highland Guard of DeKalb.” He’ll be a busy man this weekend, playing around the area.

“It’s your time to be in the lights, and it’s time to have fun with it,” said Murphy, who took up the bagpipes in 1998. “When we go out and do these gigs, we don’t just stand on stage and play, say ‘OK, we’ve done our five sets, now let’s go.’ You mingle with everybody. It’s up-close and personal. You play and play and a lot of people have questions, and they want to know what you’re wearing and why you do it.

“Because not too many people get to see bagpipes up-close and personal. They get to see you when you’re at a funeral somewhere.”

The history of the bagpipes goes back to antiquity, and the instrument has a long tradition of being played by Celtic people both in Ireland and Scotland. They also have a long history of being used in war by both the Irish and the Scots, and the British helped spread that tradition around the world as they built an empire upon which the sun never set.

The sound of the pipes adds authenticity to any St. Pat’s celebration, and Murphy has a busy schedule lined up for this weekend.

On Friday, he played in Plainfield. Today, he will play in a morning parade in Naperville before returning to DeKalb for a couple of engagements. From 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., he’ll be at Fatty’s Pub, 1312 W. Lincoln Highway in DeKalb, with the Highland Guard, a five-piece pipe-and-drum mini-band.

Murphy will be back at Fatty’s on Sunday for a solo engagement from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. before heading back to Naperville for another gig that evening.

The DeKalb Fire Department is a pretty musical bunch, as it turns out. Two other firefighters, Eric Blanken and Tom Conley, also play bagpipes along with Murphy. They also have a couple of civilian drummers, Gene VanDenBosch and Jim Kemnitz, of Sycamore.

Two other DeKalb firefighters, Tim Morey and Tony Cox, accompany them on bass drums occasionally as well, Murphy said.

Bagpipes are a staple at funerals, especially for former police, firefighters and military, and that was what first kindled Murphy’s interest in the instrument. Murphy was one of a group of firefighters who took a class from the bagpiper at the state firefighters’ honor guard in 1997.

One of the firefighters with the DeKalb department, Sean Freeman, studied music at NIU and was the department’s first pipe major. Murphy started taking lessons at Rock Valley Community College; about a year later he played in his first public event, at the Memorial Day ceremonies in 1999.

Murphy estimates he plays at least 50 funerals a year, including funerals for fallen members of police and fire departments. He recently played a funeral for a firefighter in Hudson, south of Bloomington.

“That’s the reason we got into it,” Murphy said. “Playing at the pubs and different locations, that’s just an extra for what we do.”

Here’s hoping Murphy and all the rest of my Irish friends out there have a great St. Patrick’s Day.

Bagpipes, they had: On my only trip to Ireland for a friend’s wedding a couple of years ago, I did see a few pipers roaming the streets of Dublin. My great disappointment of the trip was that none of the restaurants seemed to serve corned beef and cabbage.

I had to settle for Guinness and oysters. The wife and I really liked the “pudding” until someone told her there was blood in it, and then I got double portions.

So I’m not saying it was a total loss from a food perspective, but suffice it to say that this weekend at the O’Olson house, corned beef and cabbage will be on the menu.

We’re not ready to let that culinary tradition ride off into the sunset with Twinkie the Kid just yet, friends.

Besides, I hear that even Twinkies are making a comeback this summer.

Election drawing nearer: DeKalb County Clerk John Acardo says he thinks the turnout in the upcoming local elections will be better than what we saw two years ago.

Not that he’s really going out on a limb –last time the turnout was just over 11.5 percent.

Still, Acardo tells me he thinks that the contested mayoral races in DeKalb and Sandwich, along with some of the other races, should be enough to almost double that total.

Acardo estimates 21 percent of the electorate will vote early, or absentee, or in-person absentee, or during the registration grace period, or just show up at the polls and cast a ballot on election day, the way our forefathers once did.

“Let’s hope I’m not eating my words come April 9,” Acardo said.

I hope not. There’s a lot riding on these local elections. Change is going to come, and we need to elect people who will be ready to lead through it.

If you’re not sure who’s running for what, or what it is they stand for, there are weeks yet to do some research and ask some questions.

The League of Women Voters will host a Candidates Night at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the DeKalb City Council chambers that will also be televised on public access TV channel 14 as well as online at www.cityofdekalb.com. They’ve invited all of the candidates in the various races for DeKalb city, school, park and other governments.

If you happen to live outside DeKalb, there’s also the Daily Chronicle’s Election Central website online at Elections.Daily-Chronicle.com.

There you can find candidate photos and bios, as well as their answers to questions specific to the governments in which candidates are seeking office – everything from mayors to township road commissioners.

It’s a useful tool. Please take advantage of it, be informed and vote April 9.

• Eric Olson is the editor of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841 ext. 2257, email eolson@shawmedia.com, or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.

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