The history and tradition of the Notre Dame Bagpipe Band


Every football game day, a few hours before kickoff, visitors and residents of campus can follow the distinct sound of bagpipes and drums hailing forth from the Notre Dame Bagpipe Band.  Despite its tumultuous history, the Bagpipe Band has established itself as a natural part of every Notre Dame game day experience.

The Bagpipe Band first formed in the 1950s, when the Irish Guard originated with the purpose of intimidating rivals, being tall, and playing the bagpipes.  Unfortunately, soon realizing that the cold South Bend weather dried out the instruments and that the 8 students could not produce enough sound to be heard in the busy stadium, the Guard abandoned the bagpipes.

In one of the 1984 town halls held for the administration to hear student complaints, the Observer reported that among many of the desires students expressed was one to add bagpipes to the Notre Dame Band.  Just a few years later, several students joined together to form their own Notre Dame Bagpipe Band.

Dominic Vachon, Director of the Ruth M. Hillebrand Center for Compassionate Care in Medicine, told the Rover, “Our main task at the time was to raise funds to buy bagpipes and uniforms.  We spent many home football games with our bagpipe cases open begging for funds to help build the band.”

Financial help for the band (specifically for kilts) soon came in the form of a steak sandwich.  The Knights of Columbus paid the young band to provide music for game day grilling operations.  Doctor Vachon also commented on the assistance provided by graduates of the university.  “The alumni were very supportive over throughout the 1990s donating to us when we were dressed in different types of kilts with only the shirts being the same.  Eventually, we had enough money to buy green kilts—we could not afford the plaid kilts yet.  However, in the late 1990s the ND Bagpipe Band was given permission to make new kilts from the ND plaid.”

The band has grown in size since the turn of the century.  It now boasts undergraduate students from Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s College, and Holy Cross College in addition to graduate students, law students, and faculty.

James Elliott is one of the officers of the band.  He told the Rover, “I joined that band because I’ve been playing bagpipes since I was 10, and wanted to continue here at Notre Dame.  I’ve stayed involved because I love piping and the band plays at a lot of events around campus and South Bend.”

The Bagpipe Band plays for football and basketball games, as well as for other sporting events, concerts, university functions, and competitions.  In 2004, the band even recorded a CD, and this year, it played at the funeral of University President Rev.Theodore Hesburgh, CSC.

Off campus, the Bagpipes head to Chicago every year to play in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.  Vachon added, “This year we had the wonderful honor of being one of the bagpipe bands that played for the ‘greening of the Chicago River.’  They put our band on a tour boat and we played as the boat traveled on the river going under the bridges with just a two foot clearance with the bridges passing over the tops of our bagpipes.  Chicagoans were on both sides of the river.”

Elliott attributes the growing popularity of the Bagpipe Band in part to its relationship with Notre Dame.  He told the Rover, “I think we do a good job of maintaining the Irish identity of the university, and provide something that’s unique to just a handful of colleges in the U.S.  I would encourage anyone interested to come take lessons in piping or drumming, since we’re always looking for new members.”

Abigail Bartels is a junior political science major in Badin Hall.  If you would like to provide her with a bagpipe serenade, contact her at