Anticipation Builds for Essential Worker Thank You Parade and Mass Bagpipe Event

Enthusiasm is growing for the “Wearing of the Green-wich Thank You Parade and Tattoo” set for Sept 19 from 1:00pm to 5:00pm on Greenwich Avenue.

Tattoo, you ask?

Greenwich Police Captain Jim Bonney, who did most of the organizing, explained that a tattoo is a mass gathering of bagpipe bands.

Typically, in Scotland, for example, a tattoo involves a competition, but in Greenwich the event will be a showcase of talent, with 10 bands participating.

Greenwich Pipe Band moved down Greenwich Ave during the 2019 St Patrick’s Parade. Photo: Leslie Yager

Bonney, who plays the bagpipes as part of the Greenwich Pipe Band, said he had long dreamed of an event with multiple bagpipe bands.

In organizing the tattoo in Greenwich, he also saw an opportunity to honor pandemic frontline and essential workers in a parade leading up to the tattoo.

“During the pandemic, a lot of people were able to stay home and be protected,” Bonney said. “But for all the people who were at home safe, there were people put at risk who were keeping life and society working.”

“I know for a fact that people working at GEMS were walking into houses of people with Covid and bringing them in ambulances to the hospital and putting themselves at great risk every day,” he said.

Bonney, who serves as the police department’s bagpiper, performing at official events, funerals and promotion ceremonies, shared what inspired him to learn to play.

He said when he was in the police honor guard, it included a bagpipe player.

“After he passed, away the ceremonies weren’t the same, so I learned to play and have been playing about 10 years.”

He is a member of the Greenwich Pipe Band, which includes both drummers and pipers. They meet every Monday at 7:00pm at Christ Church in Greenwich. The group offers free bagpipe lessons.

“Anyone can learn,” Bonney said. “The sound of bagpipes is both haunting and beautiful. It seems to hit people in the heart when they hear it. That’s really the reason I learned to play.”

Lt James Bonney played the bagpipes as he led multiple honor guards to the September 11 memorial in Cos Cob Park. Sept 11, 2017 Photo:Leslie Yager
Lt James Bonney played the bagpipes as he led multiple honor guards to the September 11 memorial in Cos Cob Park on Sept 11, 2017 Photo: Leslie Yager

Bonney said he found one of the original jackets from the Emerald Society Pipe Band that fit him, and went on to create a replica of the 1976 Emerald Society Pipe Band uniform.

Bonney said he wanted to honor doctors, nurses and all staff at Greenwich Hospital, GEMS workers and nursing home staff at the Witherell and Parsonage Cottage, as well as other essential workers, including supermarket workers.

He invited all the food stores, and several will send a contingent of staff to walk in the parade.

In fact, on the 19th, Bonney anticipates hundreds of essential workers to march in the parade, which steps off from Town Hall, moves east on Putnam Ave to Greenwich Ave, and ends at Havemeyer field, where the tattoo will take place.

“It’ll be cool. It’ll be different. It’s not a copy of the St Patty’s day parade, though the Hibernians are marching in it. This is all about thanking essential workers and marking the 125th anniversary of the Greenwich Police Dept. We’re rolling it all into one big event.”

Retired Greenwich Police Detective Frank Kelly, now an active member of the Greenwich Police Auxiliary, will serve as the parade grand marshal.

The parade will also include volunteer firefighters, TAG, Cos Cob Cruisers, police honor guards from across the state, the GHS girls volleyball team, Masons, Shriners, Greenwich Rotary, GCDS, RMA, and Neighbor to Neighbor.

Bagpipers from Iona College marched in the St Patrick’s Parade in Greenwich in 2017. Photo: Leslie Yager

Kelly, who has two sons in the department, was previously in the Greenwich Pipe Band and was a founding member of the Greenwich Emerald Society.

“When I pitched the idea of the Emerald Society hosting the parade, Frank thought it was awesome,” Bonney recalled. “I couldn’t be luckier than to have a guy like Frank to help with the event.”

In the parade, the 10 bands will be spaced out between the groups of marchers so they don’t play over each other.

Bonney has arranged for some of the healthcare workers to ride in vintage convertible cars.

At the tattoo, there will be food trucks and tents, and three Irish Step Dance groups. Each bagpipe band will have 10 minutes to perform.

“Then, hundreds of bagpipers will all play the same song at the same time. Havemeyer field is already like an amphitheater. It’s going to reverberate through the whole town and sound awesome.”

Bonney noted that there will be plenty of room for families to spread out and picnic in the upper field. They can also stand up the hill closer to Town Hall to watch.

At the end of the event, all the groups will play as a mass band. They’ll play Taps for all the people lost during the pandemic, and lastly the whole group will play Amazing Grace.

James Bonney and Tommy Keegan photographed in 2016 at a medal ceremony. Photo: Leslie Yager

Retired Greenwich Police Lieutenant Tommy Keegan said he was looking forward to the once-in-a-lifetime event.

He said he anticipated the Avalon String Band might steal the show.

“They’re a mummers band out of Philadelphia. They get dressed up in elaborate costumes and play accordions, banjos and saxophones,” Keegan said. “They play songs like ‘When You’re Smiling,’ and old time songs that really put a smile on your face.”

“We hope there will be dancing in the streets,” Keegan added.

Lt James Bonney played the bagpipes as he led multiple honor guards up the hill to the September 11 monument in Cos Cob Park, Sept 11, 2017 Photo: Leslie Yager

Tattoo Schedule:

Pender Keady irish Academy of Irish Dance

Fairfield Gaelic Pipe Band

Anam Cara Dance Academy

Greenwich Pipe Band

Avalon String Band

Fairfield County Police pipes and Drums

New Haven Fire Fighters Emerald Society Pipes and Drums

Manhattan college Pipe an Drums

Police Pipes and Drums of Waterbury, CT

Celtic Cross Pipes and drums of Danbury

Pelham Regional Pipe Band

Lynn Dance Academy