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We here at the District wish all of you a very Happy New Year, along with all of the hope and anticipation that accompanies this time of renewal. As we do each year about this time, we like to share with you all what the past year has been like for us. So without further ado, here we go.

For most of our existence, we have saved our own special time of celebration for the fall of the year. In 2011, the band marked a special milestone, so we departed from this tradition in order to hold a Fifth Anniversary Concert at the Progress Energy Center in January. Helping us celebrate five years of service to our public safety community were the NCSU Pipe Band and World Champion Piper John Cairns. Both Irish and Scottish dance were well represented as well, as the pipes filled a sold out Fletcher Hall. From all of us in the band, we very humbly thank you all for your show of support. It is our happiness and our reason for being here.

Since we are first and foremost a group of like-minded players that have formed this band in order to serve, let us tell you about some of the ways we accomplished the mission in 2011.

This year was quite a busy year of service towards our brothers and sisters in law enforcement. We circled up and played for events such as the Run For Our Heroes, and the Wake County Police Memorial ceremony. It was our honor and pleasure to be invited and participate in the National Law Enforcement Memorial in our nation’s capital in May of 2011. The band was well represented as hundreds of pipers and drummers upheld the brotherhood of the thin blue line. We also played for promotions, graduations and retirements for our brothers and sisters in several law enforcement agencies including the North Carolina Highway Patrol represented by one of our own.

Once again this year, we fulfilled our primary mission too many times, in honoring our fallen officers. Wake and District paid tribute to fallen brothers from all across North Carolina; deputies made the supreme sacrifice in Nash, Moore and Greene Counties. To our West, the word reached us from the Winston Salem Police Department of a fallen brother, and we responded to the best of our ability. As you can see here, our keepers gathered much too often this past year. From all of us here at the District, to the fallen and their families, we thank you, we honor you and we will not forget you.

Our band family is also made up of brothers representing the front lines of the fire service. We honored them as well this past year, in helping to pipe home Chief Ricky Barbour of the Wilson’s Mills Volunteer Fire Department. Our nation’s fire service was founded on the backs of volunteers and they continue to make up the majority of the fire service in our proud nation. Members of the band also travelled to the scenic mountains of Asheville, to pay tribute to the loss of Captain Jeff Bowen of the Asheville Fire Department as he was reverently laid to rest. Most recently, the brothers and sisters of the Raleigh Fire Department bid farewell to one of its own, as Captain Scott Nipper was tragically taken in December in an off duty car accident. We marched with distinction as the lead band in the North Carolina Fallen Firefighters Memorial Parade and ceremonies in the spring. Then, once again in the fall of the year, a group of our firefighting members made the trip to Emmetsburg, Maryland to the campus of the National Fire Academy to Honor Our Fallen at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend.

When we as police officers, firefighters, paramedics, tele-communicators and military veterans swear the oath of our respective agencies, we knowingly accept the heaviest of burdens; a burden that will stay with us throughout our lifetimes. It will visit us in the stillness of sleep, jarring us awake in the darkness. It will find us on those quiet, slow days at our station, when there is too much time to think. We, more than most, understand the frailty of life and the delicate nature of our own mortality. We are thankful for every day that we are able to do our jobs, to accomplish our calling, and while we do not welcome the demons that visit us from time to time, we live with them, not in fear of them. We do this so that others do not have to. It is by choice that we serve, and so it shall remain.

While our mission of honoring our fallen always comes first, there are always a few chances for us to “let our hair down” and have some fun – often while serving others in our own communities. 2011 was no exception, as we helped out our family at Tir na nOg Irish Pub in Raleigh with their annual Green Run. We travelled to Aberdeen, among the most prevalent Scottish areas of our already heavily Scottish Old North State to play in cultural events for some of the keepers of our state’s proud Scottish heritage. We rang in Independence Day with the good people of Pinehurst. We celebrated the high holy day of St. Patrick with our old friends in the village of North Myrtle Beach, a group of great folks that we look forward to seeing each year. If you want to be a part of a great Irish community, follow us down to the beach this year for St. Paddy’s Day. Not to leave out our own Triangle area, we quickly travelled back to Raleigh to pay homage to Saint Patrick at several local establishments well into the night.

One of the greatest things about being a part of this organization is that every year, we can count on making new friendships. We have been so honored to have met and been accepted by our friends at the USO. We participated in the very special celebrations surrounding the return of our state’s World War II veterans from their day trips to Washington D.C. aboard the Triangle Flight of Honor. Five times this year, we were awed to stand among these men and women as they returned home to a crowd of thousands, holding signs, screaming, cheering and crying upon seeing the return of their special soldier from such a memorable day of reflection at the Nation’s World War II Memorial. Some of these men and women made the trip still able to carry themselves, while others, no less proud, made the journey by wheelchair. No matter their physical condition, they all returned standing a little straighter, both proud and humbled at the same time. We are so very thankful to have been allowed to be a part of this and we look forward to our continued relationship with the good people of the USO. We also thank them for the invitation to play at the 7th Annual Salute to Freedom Gala, which allowed us to show off our brand new Class A band uniforms. We were sharp if I do say so myself. We also made new friends among the faculty and staff at Campbell University, one of our state’s oldest private universities. Once again, there is a strong Scottish heritage involved with this institution, and the pipes were right at home there. We look forward to playing more music for the folks down in Buies Creek.

One of the highlights of our year was when we were given the honor of playing with the world renowned Irish artists known as the Chieftains. This group has almost single-handedly been the ambassador of Irish music to the world for the last 30 years. When their latest tour came to Raleigh looking for a pipe band to accompany them on stage, we were happy to oblige them. We hope to see them again soon. We also made a new friend this year in the form of Raleigh’s newest mayor, Nancy McFarlane. Being of Scottish lineage herself, the pipes were a nice touch to her swearing in ceremony. We hope to see you again soon, Madam Mayor.

As with all families, we had some events occur among our own members this year. Two members of our drum line earned the distinction of becoming Eagle Scouts, an accomplishment that only 4 percent of scouts ever achieve. We applaud Jacob and Brian Egen for there hard work and dedication to the time honored tradition of scouting. We also witnessed our drum Sergeant, Jamie McMillan, fulfilling one of his most important goals of becoming a Brewmaster for Aviator Brewing Company right here in the Triangle. Congratulations to you, Jamie!  Like most families, we have grown a little over the past year. Some new students have arrived in both the drum and piping sections. Some more experienced members have travelled to us from other areas of the state because they wanted to become a part of what we do, and we welcome all of them. It is this growth that has helped us form a stronger friendship with the North Carolina Highway Patrol as they help us accommodate our growing family into the coming year. A special thank you to the Colonel and all the men in grey for your support of our efforts.

Last year, we gave a proper send off to a very important member of our band family as she returned to her homeland of Ireland to pause and reflect on a life well lived and visited much too often with grief that no mother should ever have to bear. We missed her terribly and asked about her often, but respected her privacy and time away from us, while she was close to those whom she had grown to love while growing up and becoming a strong Irish woman. Well, thankfully, this year she decided to return to us and make her home here. Annie, we love you more than words can say and we are so happy to have you back among us once again. As we say in Carolina, “Take off your coat and stay a while.” Whenever you are in Raleigh, drop in over at Tir na nOg Irish Pub and ask for Annie. If she is there, give her a hug and let her know the pipe band sent you.

We rounded out our year with a wee Irish party at the nOg, known as a Ceili (kay-lee).  Fun was certainly had as we celebrated the release of our first CD, and sold all kinds of band swag trying to raise a little funding so all these new members can have kilts (if they survive). We also have a yuletide charity that has been founded by one of our drummers, Patrick O’Leary, called Kids Need Christmas. This undertaking was also represented at our end of the year events in order to raise money so that the charity’s mission can be accomplished.  New years Eve found us well represented back at Tir na nOg, the band’s home if you couldn’t tell by now.

A huge thank you goes out to all of the folks that have supported us for the past five years.  Hopefully you will continue to spread the word about our little band of merry makers. We certainly could not accomplish all the good that we have done without the help of all our friends in the Triangle area. To all of the private companies that booked us to play for many special occasions over the past year, we thank you very much for your contact and we look forward to helping you in the future, should you need us. If you know us, keep coming out and seeing us. We love seeing familiar faces. If you just found us on the web and you are reading this, welcome! We hope that you will check the schedule and make one of our upcoming events. Who knows…you might even be a piper or drummer in the making.

Thanks to everyone so much for all that you have done for us. We will continue to do all that we can for you.

See you soon.

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