Maybe it’s the drone or the way they wail, but bagpipes are one of the most inherently mournful instruments there is.
That goes a long way to explaining why they’re so popular at funerals.
But finding the right bagpipe funeral songs for your loved ones is like finding a perfectly in-tune bagpipe. It’s hard to do. But when you get it right, it pays enormous dividends.
Here are some of the best bagpipe funeral songs to help you make your selections.
“Ashokan Farewell” by Kelly Buckley
“Ashokan Farewell” is one of the more modern bagpipe funeral songs on this list. Jay Ungar wrote it in 1982.
Its lyrics are a gentle reflection on love, and it remains the popular closing waltz for many Scottish Country Dancing events.
But its tender, lilting rhythm is also perfect for funerals. It’s gentle and heartfelt. And even without lyrics, there’s a nostalgia inherent in the melody. It’s one of the rare bagpipe funeral songs to feel like a whisper, not a shout, and sometimes that’s what we need.
“Highland Cathedral by The German Navy Band
“Highland Cathedral” is a popular bagpipe processional. It does duty both at weddings and funerals. It has a solemn, steady melody designed to move you, whatever the occasion.
But it also has moments where the pipes soar above the drone and adds a touch of ethereal grace to the service.
“Flowers of the Forest” by The Dark Isle Bagpiper
“Flowers of the Forest” has a long history as a funeral dirge. Purportedly, it’s what the Scots played after the massacre at Glencoe. Later, they played it to mourn the Culloden dead.
It was the commemorative dirge of choice for fallen soldiers during both World Wars and recently, was the Scottish and Irish tribute to the late Queen of England.
As bagpipe funeral songs go, you can’t go wrong with this one. Even without the lyrics, it cuts to the heart of loss, reminding us that even the most expected deaths feel untimely.
“A Scottish Soldier” by Andy Stewart and the Scottish Dragoon Guards
Another staple on lists of bagpipe funeral songs is “A Scottish Soldier.” It’s about a young man who yearns for the hills of the Scottish countryside. The melody reflects his homesickness with phrases that sound poignant and nostalgic.
Many people see death as a return home. But even if you don’t, this is a lovely tribute to a loved one whose home may not have been where they died.
“The Skye Boat Song” by The Regimental Band
Today, most people are familiar with “The Skye Boat Song” as the theme song for the hit television show Outlander. But before that, it was a Jaccobian anthem for nursing hopes that Scotland’s rightful King would return.
That alone makes it an excellent bagpipe funeral song. But then Robert Louis Stevenson wrote a set of lyrics to the melody titled “Sing Me a Song Of A Lad That Is Gone.”
Whatever way you look at it, “The Skye Boat Song” is a song about painful separations, and few people understand as much about what those are like as mourners at a funeral.
“Scotland the Brave” by The Auld Toon Pipes
Here’s another bagpipe funeral song full of longing for the rolling Scottish moors and glens.
Musically, it’s hard to get more Scottish than “Scotland The Brave,” making it the ideal funeral song for Scottish ex-pats and people who loved Scotland.
Some versions of the lyrics include a verse that dwells on how the people left behind miss those they’ve lost, making it doubly apt for a funeral.
Even without lyrics, there’s a stateliness and grandeur to “Scotland The Brave” that dresses up any funeral and adds a touch of the Highlands.
“Mist Covered Mountains” by The Pipes and Drums of Leanisch
John Cameron composed “Mist Covered Mountains” in 1856. He was a highlander that moved to Glasgow and witnessed first-hand the deterioration of Scottish culture. So, when he wrote “Mist Covered Mountains,” he gave it Gaelic words.
They reflect a longing for a dying way of life. Despite this, it’s a hopeful song. The speaker sees visions of their beloved home and hears the language they love.
Wherever you come from, these are all things we wish for our departed loved ones, endowing this bagpipe funeral song with a bit of hope to carry people through the service.
“I Will Return Home to Kintail” by The Scots Guards
“I Will Return Home to Kintail” is another Gaelic air popular at funerals.
Sometimes known in Gaelic as “Theid Mi Dhachaidh ‘Chrò Chinn T-Sàile,” it explores one of the most prevalent themes in Scottish music, homesickness and a desire to go home.
Its minor key and mournful melody are appropriately sober for a funeral. And when the pipes begin wailing over the drone, it makes for a deeply moving funeral song.
“Down by the Sally Gardens” by Celtic Spirit
“Down By The Sally Gardens” stands out from other bagpipe funeral songs on this list because it’s an English air, not a Scottish one.
You can tell that from listening to it. It’s long, lyrical, and lacks the distinctive Scottish Snap. However, that doesn’t stop it from being a beautiful funeral song. It’s a melancholy reflection on love.
When we’re young, we don’t always realize our luck, and when we do it can be too late. If you want a melody that reflects on a life well lived or a love with longevity, it’s perfect.
“Danny Boy” by Rob Crabtree
“Danny Boy” is a well-known Irish melody sung to “The Londonderry Air.” It’s the perfect bagpipe funeral song. It’s sentimental and melancholic, but it’s also prayerful.
And it blossoms into a soaring melody that floats through a grave or churchyard. What’s more, it never forgets it’s a love song at heart. That’s a powerful combination because it can help people remember that while people may die, our love for them persists.
“The Mountains of Mourne” by Stephen McGerty
“Mountains of Mourne” is another musical treatise on homesickness. In the song, the speaker is baffled by Londoners’ preoccupation with gold. He joins them in looking for riches, but none of it holds a candle to his home.
That’s a feeling familiar to anyone who’s had their world turned upside-down by death. If you’ve lost someone who meant home to you, there’s no better funeral song with bagpipes than this one.
“The Road To The Isles” by Rob Crabtree
“Road To The Isles” was written for soldiers in World War One. It was supposed to keep their spirits up and remind them of the homes they left behind.
That gives it a much jauntier and more optimistic feel than some funeral songs with bagpipes in them. But it’s a lovely selection because it treads the fine line between being maudlin and sentimental expertly.
Like many Scottish songs about home, its inherent nostalgia reminds listeners why they loved this place or in the case of a funeral service, the people they’ve lost. But it offers the comfort of letting listeners picture those people somewhere they loved.
“Corn Riggs” by The Queen’s Royal Pipers
No list of funeral songs with bagpipes in them would be complete without a selection or two by Robert Burns.
As with many of Burns' pieces, he added the lyrics and reworked a pre-existing tune to create “Corn Riggs.”
At first blush, it’s an atypical selection for a funeral. The melody is bright and even happy sounding. It’s a brilliant tune to dance to.
But sometimes, when planning a funeral, we need those moments of brightness to help us get through the service. At its heart, “Corn Riggs” is an ode to the woman Burns loved. And funerals are as much about the love we have for the people they lose as they are about grief, making “Corn Riggs” an excellent choice for bagpipes.
“My Lagan Love” by Mick O’Brien
If you want a love song that is more overtly funereal, “My Lagan Love” is another excellent choice.
It has long, almost legato phrases that give it a mournful air. The drone of the bagpipe exacerbates that, perfectly capturing the atmosphere of loss associated with death.
But it’s also a tender recollection of love, for people and places now out of reach.
It’s a melody with many covers by notable artists, including
- Kate Bush
- Sinead O’Connor
- John McCormack
“She Moved Through The Fair” by Eilean Donan
“She Moved Through The Fair” opens with a verse about an impending wedding. That may seem odd for a song popular at funerals.
But what makes “She Moved Through The Fair” a perennial favorite bagpipe funeral song is its solemnity.
As the song progresses, it emerges that the young lovers are separated. As they yearn for each other, they dream of each other. Intentionally or not, it captures the unmoored feelings of anyone who has lost a loved one.
In the context of a funeral, the refrain that it won’t be long before they’re reunited becomes a powerful expression of hope and longing for that reunion after death.
“Shenandoah” by Matt Willis
Another song that works well as a funeral song with bagpipes is “Shenandoah.”
Its beautifully even phrasing combined with a rock-steady rhythm is suitably sober. Not only that, but it’s full of keen yearning for elsewhere, a trait shared by all the best funereal bagpipe melodies.
Its refrain of being destined for somewhere beyond their control is also appropriate for a funeral. It allows people to think of their loved ones dying peacefully but always holding onto those they leave behind.
That can be deeply comforting. Especially since the best way to keep the people we lose alive is by remembering them often.
“Amazing Grace” by The Canadian Pipes and American Brass
“Amazing Grace” is a perennial favorite at funerals with or without bagpipes. But with them, the melody develops an extra dignity and gravitas.
Its enduring popularity is because of the deeply moving exploration of faith at the heart of the lyrics. It offers a beacon of hope in a time that can feel permeated by darkness, and that’s a powerful sensation.
“The Parting Glass” by Bryce Delaney
“The Parting Glass” is another contribution from Robert Burns. Burns loved his lasses, but he also wrote a considerable number of odes extolling the virtues of alcohol. “The Parting Glass” might be the most famous.
But reducing “The Parting Glass” to a song about drinking does it a disservice. One of the reasons it’s an excellent funeral song with bagpipes is because it rhapsodizes the importance of good company and keeping your loved ones around you.
In that way, it makes an effective toast to a departed loved one. It’s meditative but also more optimistic than many bagpipe funeral songs. At a time when optimism can seem like a rare commodity, that’s important.
“Over the Hills and Far Away” by John Tams
“Over the Hills And Far Away” is another excellent bagpipe funeral song. Its lyrics have altered considerably with time. But one thing that’s always the same is the titular echo that the speaker travels “over the hills and far away.”
The use of lombardie rhythms gives it an especially mournful feeling.
As often happens in these songs, the speaker is separated from someone else by time and space. There’s always the promise that someday they’ll come back over those hills, giving the speaker hope.
It’s a reminder that as much as we miss our departed friends and family, there’s always the glimmer of hope that we’ll see them again in some other life. At a funeral, that’s a moving and meaningful reminder.
“Oft in the Stilly Night” by Nick MacVicar
When we lose someone, it’s easy to focus completely on our loss. But one of the most effective ways to keep those people alive long after death is by remembering them. That’s the central idea of “Oft In The Stilly Night,” and the reason it’s such an effective bagpipe funeral song.
This song by Nick is about the speaker’s happy memories of their lost love. They find it devastating that they’re alone now, but at the same time find joy and comfort in dwelling on those happier times.
“Auld Lang Syne” by The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards
Usually, we associated this tune by The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards with New Year’s Eve. But that’s primarily because even most Scots don’t know it beyond the first verse.
There’s a lot to be said for “Auld Lang Syne” as a bagpipe funeral song. Fundamentally it’s a song about the importance of memory and friendship. Few things are more integral to our well-being during a bereavement.
But the other reason this is an effective funeral song with bagpipes is that it encourages people to share memories of departed friends and family. At a time of loss, many find that comforting.
“Auld Lang Syne” is a heartfelt reminder that it’s all right to accept that comfort.
Best Bagpipe Funeral Songs, Final Thoughts
Bagpipes have a long storied history as funereal instruments. They commemorated the dead at events like The Massacre at Glencoe and Culloden.
Later, during the World Wars, pipers piped a combination of encouragement to the soldiers and dirges for their fallen comrades, sometimes even after being shot themselves.
But trying to draw on that history can quickly feel daunting. Many songs for bagpipes are naturally melancholy and reflective, making it hard to narrow down the right funeral song with bagpipes for the funeral you find yourself planning.
Hopefully, this list of bagpipe funeral songs helps. Some are pensive, some are lyrical, and all aim to do that lost loved one justice.