Ask Tip Sheet

Why are bagpipes the music of choice at public funerals? When did this custom begin?

--Dale Taliaferro, Winnemucca, Nev.

We dug up an ancient poem that referred to bagpipes at the funeral of King Donnchadh of Ossory (modern-day Ireland), who reigned in the 10th century--so the tradition is at least that old. Recent performances probably trace their roots to Sir Robert Peel, a 19th-century statesman who helped establish the modern British police. (They were named "bobbies" in his honor.) Bagpipes became the preferred instrument at memorials in England, since many officers had Irish roots. Next came Boston. Soon other mourners caught on.