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FDNY paramedic attracts Central Park fans with his outdoor bagpiping

Lt. Robert Walsh, a bagpiper and FDNY paramedic, typically plays funerals and memorials, but those who enjoy the sound of the woodwind instrument can also catch him in a more convivial setting.

He regularly practices in Central Park along the west side of the 102nd Street Transverse, where he draws in droves of fans.

Lt. Robert Walsh, of FDNY EMS Station 10 and a bagpiper for the FDNY EMS Pipes and Drums band, serenades Agnese Neil and her dog, Mia, in Central Park on Feb 23. Emmy Park for N.Y.Post
Lt. Robert Walsh, of FDNY EMS Station 10 and a bagpiper for the FDNY EMS Pipes and Drums band, serenades Agnese Neil and her dog, Mia, in Central Park on Feb 23. Emmy Park for N.Y.Post

“[I] get people who will take a picture or take a video,” Walsh, a key member of the FDNY EMS Pipes and Drums band, told The Post.

“Or I get people who will clap and come up to me as I’m playing a tune,” he said. “They always say there’s some connection to their family or that the sound reminds them of something.”

This weekend, he and the band are looking forward to another uplifting venue: New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Saturday.

“We get to play the happier tunes,” said the 55-year-old who will perform military medleys and traditional Irish melodies such as “Robin Adair” and “The Rowan Tree” while wearing a dress jacket, Glengarry hat and kilts.

“It’s like the prom,” Walsh told The Post. “We all get dressed up fancy and everyone takes our picture. It’s a lot of fun.”

Walsh, who joined the FDNY in 2000 and worked nightmarish 16-hour shifts at Ground Zero in the aftermath of 9/11, wasn’t always a musical talent who attracted packs of spectators.

He never picked up an instrument as a child, but he was drawn to performing and joined the FDNY band when it launched in 2006.

“I had no musical talent,” he admitted.

Walsh, 55, routinely practices in Central Park, where encounters with onlookers are unanimously positive, he told The Post. Emmy Park for N.Y.Post
Walsh, 55, routinely practices in Central Park, where encounters with onlookers are unanimously positive, he told The Post. Emmy Park for N.Y.Post
Walsh, a 24-year FDNY veteran, initially played snare drum in the band of EMTs and paramedics before shifting his focus to the bagpipes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Emmy Park for N.Y.Post
Walsh, a 24-year FDNY veteran, initially played snare drum in the band of EMTs and paramedics before shifting his focus to the bagpipes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Emmy Park for N.Y.Post

Walsh always enjoyed the unmistakable sound of the bagpipes, which brought him some comfort during many memorials he attended in the wake of 9/11, but they’re not an instrument for novices. So, he started with the drums.

“I was a snare drummer for 16 years,” he said proudly.

During the pandemic, he finally had the time to devote to the bagpipes.

“They’re such a difficult instrument to learn. I’ve picked them up and put them down more times than I could imagine,” he said. “COVID really made me focus on it.”

Walsh now plays his pipes about an hour a day, in addition to about two events or ceremonies per month. The FDNY paramedic practices outside as many as five days per week, barring rain or temperatures below 40 degrees, he said. Emmy Park for N.Y.Post
Walsh now plays his pipes about an hour a day, in addition to about two events or ceremonies per month. The FDNY paramedic practices outside as many as five days per week, barring rain or temperatures below 40 degrees, he said. Emmy Park for N.Y.Post

He bought his own set of pipes in April 2022, paying $2,000 at a specialty shop in New Jersey. They were well worth the investment.

“I just couldn’t watch the news anymore,” said the married father-of-one who lives in Inwood. “I just needed something positive and something to fill that depressing time.”

Now, Walsh is one of 10 bagpipers in the FDNY band. About twice a month, he’ll don a traditional Irish kilt to perform with the group, often at FDNY station houses to dedicate plaques for fallen members. The band also plays at graduations, family events for incoming EMTs, banquets and award ceremonies.

Walsh practices outside so as not to bother his neighbors. Emmy Park for N.Y.Post
Walsh practices outside so as not to bother his neighbors. Emmy Park for N.Y.Post

But Walsh, whose ancestors hailed from Ireland and Poland, admits the distinctive sound of bagpipes is best in small doses. He practices in Central Park or Inwood Hill Park with his neighbors in mind.

“Personally, I really can’t stand bagpipes for that long,” he said. “I like making the music, but I’m not sitting and listening to bagpipes in my free time. For me – and I think I can speak for the other guys – we just like the tradition that it brings.”