The Grand Rapids & District Pipe Band was formed in 1968 as “The Piping Society of Grand Rapids.” The original band consisted of roughly 10 members, including founders Alan Wilson, Ed Gavin, Jim Pringle, Harry Ohanesian, Bill Campbell, and Larry MacPherson. The band name was soon changed to the Grand Rapids Pipe Band, and its first Pipe Major was elected. In the beginning, membership was restricted to men, aged 21 years or older, in compliance with military pipe bands. This changed in 1970 when the first female student joined the band.

The band enjoyed early success, with appearances on the local television program “The Buck Matthews Show” (WOTV) in March 1971 and January 1973, and a 3rd place finish in the Grade IV competition in 1972 at the Alma Highland Festival. That appearance led to a bigger stage when the Michigan bands from the festival were invited to perform during the half-time program at the Detroit Lions/New Orleans Saints football game, televised from Tiger Stadium in November 1972. The band continued to grow during this period, with several families having more than one member as a student. Indoor performances were supplemented by dancers, when Maureen Scobie began teaching Highland dancing to a handful of girls in early 1972.

In January 1973, the band appeared again on “The Buck Matthews Show,” as part of a special Burns’ Night edition. In September of that year, the GRPB invited other West Michigan pipe bands to participate in a Trio & Mini-Band competition, held at Ottawa Hills High School. One of the two GRPB trios won 2nd place, while its mini-band took 1st place and was awarded Drum Corps of the Day.

By 1974, the band consisted of twenty-four members. It started the season with two 2nd place finishes at the Midlothian Highland Games in the Slow March-6/8 and the March/Strathspey/Reel competitions. That same year, Buck Matthews, as co-chair of the Grand Rapids Arts Festival, invited the band to perform at the opening ceremonies of Festival ’74. The recording of that event is now part of a special record in the Library of Congress. (needs to hyperlink to

In 1975, the band attempted to advance in ranking, by competing in Grade III at the Alma and Midlothian Games, but was unsuccessful. The band participated as Grade IV in the Inter-Continental Competition, held in Toronto as part of the Scottish World Festival that August. While the GRPD placed 10th out of 13, the experience of meeting and playing with bands from Canada, the UK, Fiji, Nepal, and New Zealand, in addition to those from the US, made the trip worthwhile.

The GRPD continued to evolve during the seventies, as membership changed, and new efforts were made to raise visibility and funds. A highlight in 1976 was the first Tartan Ball, held in April; the fundraiser featured a dance band and guest pipe bands from the surrounding area performing throughout the night.

In March 1980, the band placed 3rd in competition in Dunedin, FL, which allowed them to participate in the Tattoo held in conjunction with the Games. That trip also provided excitement of a different sort, when the Drum Major twisted his ankle in a ditch on the playing field, and the trailer carrying most of the other members tipped over on the drive home. Fortunately, there were no major injuries.

In 1981, the band experienced major changes. The name was changed to Fir-eunn Og Gaelic Pipes & Drums, which in Gaelic means “the young, true eagles.” Along with the new name came new uniforms, the expense of which prevented the band from competing that summer. At this time, the band became officially registered with the IRS as a tax-exempt organization.

In early September 1981, the newly formed Midwest Pipe Band Association {MWPBA} sponsored a small competition on Chicago's Navy Pier, in conjunction with the Irish Family Days Celebration.  The band competed and placed 5th in Grade IV in that event. The following year, wearing their new uniforms – featuring Prince Charlie jackets and uniform bag covers – the band competed in the Chicago PipeFest, where it placed 4th in Grade IV, despite the heat and unlucky position as first performer.

Starting in 1983, the band performed at the Milwaukee Irish Fest, but suffered a decline, as several band members left, reducing it to 6 seasoned members, a street band of 9, a half-dozen learners, and a new Pipe Major. The next decade was relatively quiet for the band.

In 1993, a 25th Anniversary Reunion was held, at which many former members picked up their instruments and played a few tunes with the group. About this time, the members decided to change the name again, to reflect the band’s beginnings, as well as to acknowledge those members who traveled in from beyond the boundary of Greater Grand Rapids. The Grand Rapids & District Pipe Band was born.

From 1993-1995, the GR&DPB worked to create its band identity, changing tartans from the Ancient Wilson to the Modern Baird, and adding Black Argyle jackets. It elected its third Pipe Major, gained a friend in the Clan Baird Society Worldwide, and set its sights on competing again.

When the Van Andel Arena opened in October 1996, the GR&DPB was ready to perform. With two other area pipe bands, GR&D led the way across the ice towards the center of the arena, where the bands circled and performed a well-received rendition of Amazing Grace. Amazingly, no one slipped on the ice! Since then, the band has performed at several West Michigan Whitecaps games, during the half-time of a Griffins’ game, and at the anniversary event for the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum.

The late nineties saw the band at its largest, with an average of 10 pipers and 8 drummers. While those numbers have fluctuated during the intervening years, the band has continued to focus on developing new learners to build the piping and drumming community in West Michigan. The band also registered the domain during this time.

The current band, led by Pipe Major Fred Merritt, is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2018. This year represents a resurgence for the band, with several new pipers and drummers, and more learners just beginning. The Grand Rapids and District Pipe Band has appeared at Alma Highland Festival, where we were awarded Best Parade Band, and at the Saline and St. Andrew’s Highland Festivals. The band has performed at local events, including a Purple Heart Reunion ceremony at the Gerald R Ford Museum, and the annual St. Patrick’s Day Pub Crawl. The band is eagerly focused on competing next year!