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Scottish tunes help celebrate heritage; Bagpipes fill air around yacht club at Tartan Day Ceilidh

By Staff | Apr 7, 2008

By CONNOR HOLMES, “mailto:cholmes@breezenewspapers.com”>cholmes@breezenewspapers.com

Saturday night as those of Scottish descent, and those who just happen to have an ear and a tongue for all things Scottish, celebrated the Tartan Day Ceilidh.

The evening kicked off around 7 p.m. when hundreds of people gathered at tables in the Cape Coral Yacht Club events hall to hear The Wyndbreakers band play traditional Scottish music. At around 8 p.m., the Celtic Spirit small pipes band played, followed by the Lee County Pipes and Drums group with a number of bagpipe tunes.

When he wasn’t busy piping out tunes for attendees, LCPD 15-year piper Bill Firrigno enjoyed the festivities at a dinner table with his wife, Ann.

“My wife is from the Mackenzie clan,” said Firrigno. The Mackenzies are one of Scotland’s original clans, he said.

Ann said her heritage goes back to her great, great grandparents who came from Paisley, Scotland to settle in Road Island in 1840 with eight children, six of which were boys. Her father was an only child and she is sibling to two brothers.

I guess I’m the end of the line,” she said.

The Firrignos’ pride in their lineage is strong, having visited, five years ago, the church where Ann’s great- great-grandparents were married in Scotland.

My husband contacted the parish, and we got to re-do our wedding vows in the church,” said Ann. “We rented a car and drove from one end to the other,” she said about their three-week trip.

Rich and Pat Mariani, friends of the Firrignos, visit Florida for the winter at their Punta Gorda home. They came to the event Saturday to support Bill and the pipe band, said Rich.

These guys will blow you away,” said Rich about the Lee County Pipes and Drums band. “I get goose bumps.

Guest players with the LCPD were four Canadian musicians visiting from Ontario: Dwight Grant, Alfred Cooper, Christine Grant and Corinne Cooper with the South Glengarry Pipes and Drums band.

It’s a terrific place to be,” said Grant, a 41-year piper. “This is my first trip to Florida; we left four foot of snow in Ontario.

Grant said the 25-piece band found out about the event through contacts and piping circles and came to stay in Punta Gorda for the warm weather.

The band has been together for 10 years and plays at numerous events back home and in the U.S. including parades, the Relay for Life and highland dance festivals, he said.

Grant (heritage) dates back to one of the founding clans in the development of Scotland,” he said. “They helped develop it into a democracy.

The Grants have been in Canada for 150 years since moving from Inverness, Scotland, he said.

(The South Glengarry Pipes and Drums band) has an open invitation to play with the Lee County Pipes and Drums,” said piper and treasurer for the Lee County music group, Larry Stewart.

The Canadian band lives only 30 miles from Stewart’s hometown in New York, he said. The band is set to play there with the LCPD in June, said Stewart.

Other evening-festivities included the Grand March of the Tartans, during which marchers shuffled through a tunnel of interlaced arms to music by The Wyndbreakers, and The Gay Gordons performing Scottish dance.

Approximately 180 people came to take part in the Tartan Day Festival. Proceeds for the event went to the Hope Hospice of Southwest Florida.

Tartan Day is officially April 6, each year, celebrating the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Arbroath in 1320 in Scotland. The treaty marked Scotland’s independence from the United Kingdom as a sovereign nation.