Ed McLoughlin was sitting at one of the tables set up on what is normally the warming track of Citi Field’s diamond. In a green-tartan kilt, white shirt and black jacket, he was telling stories of a musical band for the FDNY that dissolved in the late 1950s.
As he continued to discuss how the Emerald Society Pipes and Drums first officially performed in 1962, he was told to go into the tunnels of the ballpark: guests were arriving and he needed to join his fellow musicians to get ready.
Firefighters, active and retired, families and friends celebrated the 50th anniversary of the music group that has become a symbol of New York’s Bravest on Saturday, September 15
“We have a lot of tradition in the band,” said drum major Liam Flaherty. “We really look up to the senior guys, without them we’d be home tonight watching TV. It’s all because of them and their hard work years ago; they put the time in and created the great organization that it is.”
They have performed for ceremonial events and funerals. Every St. Patrick’s Day since 1963 they have marched down Fifth Avenue to celebrate the Celtic heritage that is commonly associated with the FDNY.
The group formed after a meeting in September of 1961, McLoughlin said, with 12 pipers and five drummers — three snare drums, one bass and one tenor. Their first performance was just more than a year later, in November of 1962.
Five founders took the field with their comrades for the 50th celebration; six have passed on, McLoughlin said. Some, however, were not able to make it.
“It’s a great feeling,” he said. “It’s a great tribute to the [FDNY] members of Irish extraction.”
While the Emerald Society celebrates St. Patrick’s Day every year, they have also taken part in putting their fallen friends to rest. Following the 9/11 attacks, Pipes and Drums took part in more than 450 funerals, nationwide and even in Europe.
Flaherty — who took over as drum major in 1996 — echoed that there were times for remembering and times for celebration.
“It’s a celebration of 50 years of good times, bad times and it’s always nice when the band gets together for something positive,” he said.
Flaherty said a neighbor saw him get on the elevator in his uniform and instantly assumed the worst.
“A guy in my building said ‘oh no,’ he looked at me and said ‘are you going to another funeral?’ I go ‘no, no, today’s a great day — we’re celebrating 50 years.’”