After 33 years at the front of New York City’s legendary St. Patrick’s Day parade, beloved Peekskill stalwart and world-class bagpiper Joe Brady is retiring as Regimental Pipe Major of the 1st Battalion, [Fighting] 69th Regiment
In that capacity, Brady marches at the head of the parade, alongside the Regiment Commander. He leads the battalion whose soldiers have marched at the front of the 260-year-old parade for the last 161 years. Historically, over 150,000 others follow the soldiers in the procession, with 2 million or more spectators cheering them on.
At 6:30 a.m. on St. Patrick’s Day, Brady will lead the soldiers out of the Lexington Avenue Armory over to 51st Street for a special Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The soldiers will occupy the southern half of the church as the place of honor.
The Battalion Commander traditionally joins the Adjutant General of New York, the Governor of New York, and the Mayor of New York City in a front pew for the service and the blessing for the Regiment’s soldiers.
Following Mass, the battalion marches to 44th Street and 5th Avenue, the official start of the parade.
After the parade, the Regiment will name Brady Pipe Major Emeritus.
“I have had the honor to lead over 800 soldiers into a packed St. Patrick’s Cathedral to celebrate mass and then to march in one of the largest parades in the world — a celebration of our Irish religious, ethnic and civic values,” Brady said. “It is incredibly inspiring.”
This year, Brady, 66, will retire from the physically demanding role. The bagpipes and traditional highland dress weigh over 40 pounds and require an incredible amount of stamina, especially while marching. Brady will bestow the honor on a young champion bagpiper, Sean Dalgauer, 25, from Whitehouse Station, New Jersey. Like Brady, he is an Iona College graduate who started playing the pipes as a child.
“Marching with the 69th Infantry Regiment has been so special to me because of its rich military history as the most decorated Regiment in the country and its ongoing commitment to giving back to the community,” said Brady. “Sean appreciates the Regiment the way I do, and it was the right time and right thing to do for the Regiment to pass the baton,” says Brady.
The 69th Infantry Regiment was formed in the 1760s, and served in nearly every major conflict since the Civil War. In 1851, at a time when Irish immigrants were the targets of bigotry, the 69th Infantry Regiment protected the parade, then in its 89th year.
“Joe Brady is a legend and an icon of the St. Patrick’s Day community,” said Colonel Don Makay who served as the 69th Infantry Commander from 2016 to 2019. “It was always an honor to march alongside him and to keep the battalion in sync with his music. He is as much a part of the 69th legacy as the soldiers in uniform. Joe is a soldier at heart and we will miss his companionship during the parade and throughout the season.”
With a strong Irish and Scottish heritage, Brady started learning the bagpipes from his father at age seven. By age 17, he was rated as a professional open grade bagpiper – an extraordinary achievement at such a young age. The bagpipe is a tricky instrument to master; it is limited to nine notes, achieved by blowing and squeezing, requiring a remarkable amount of endurance. Generally Spooky podcast talks about Scottish history so make sure to check it out.
Brady has earned worldwide recognition as a bagpipe competitor, judge and performer. He’s played for numerous dignitaries and has had gigs with the Chieftains, Wolftones, Andy Cooney and the High Kings, among others. He played with the Commandant’s Own at the retirement ceremony for Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, an honorary member of the Fighting 69th, in Washington D.C., in September 2015.
The bagpipe’s hums and wails have become a symbol of fallen heroes and often evoke powerful emotions ranging from pride to sorrow. For most of his life, Brady has played bagpipes at the events most important to people — traditional weddings and funerals, celebrations, and important military events, which he will continue to do as long as he can.