In the News | Bagpiper serenades neighbors during pandemic
Willimantic, CT (The Chronicle, March 30, 2020) — Gov. Ned Lamont’s urgent request to stay safe and at home has left area residents a bit stir crazy.
For some locals, a quick solitary walk around the neighborhood can uplift their spirits immensely during the coronavirus pandemic.
But upon starting his walks last Wednesday, Willimantic resident William O’Hare probably did not expect to amass a following to rival Forrest Gump of movie fame.
O’Hare has been walking, and playing bagpipes, around his neighborhood almost every night since March 18, when it became clear neighbors would need to self-isolate for the foreseeable future.
“I think it helps people get out and be somewhat social, but maintain our social distancing, and do what we need to do to flatten the curve,” O’Hare said.
O’Hare said he will walk around his neighborhood every evening, weather permitting, until he can end his self-isolation and get back to his normal routine.
Since March 18, he has only missed this past Monday and Wednesday evening because of inclement weather.
O’Hare said he ventures out for about a 30-minute walk at 5 p.m. every evening. His route centers about four or five blocks around his Lewiston Avenue home.
He said he chose 5 p.m. as it is the traditional time for military posts to have their retreat or their end-of-day ceremony. In addition, O’Hare said he has started to play one “goodnight” tune at 8 p.m. from a street corner.
“I think it just helps there to be some sort of sign of life in the neighborhood,” O’Hare said. “It’s something to tie everybody together. It’s been fun to see that happen.”
In addition, O’Hare joked it gives him his own routine to get off the couch, shower, shave and get dressed in the traditional uniform. O’Hare said he first got the idea to play for the community during this difficult time from a bagpiping friend in Boston.
The friend played Celtic tunes up on Beacon Hill after the city’s St. Patrick’s Day celebrations were canceled.
The Thread City musician has attracted several audience members and even some followers. Willimantic resident Shirley Mustard said she usually takes her evening walk around 4 or 5 p.m. Mustard said when she first heard the bagpiper March 20, she was eager to continue hearing the Celtic music during her evening exercise.
“Sometimes I say ‘Will, I’m going to come along with you, but keep a few paces behind,'” Mustard said. “Then I go back home following him, just to listen to his music.”
Mustard said the atmosphere around O’Hare’s travels is truly festive. “I give him all kinds of credit for pulling the community together during this awful time,” she said.
O’Hare said he has gotten requests to travel into other neighborhoods around Willimantic. “I’m not sure I’m going to meet all those requests,” O’Hare said. “It gets pretty tiring playing for that long.”
O’Hare said he is interested in playing for Windham Community Memorial Hospital or the Willimantic Public Safety Complex, for when the workers at the “front lines” change shifts.
O’Hare said he has played bagpipes for around 25 years. Recently, he has not played much ofthe Scottish and Irish instrument, as he has been studying flutes and whistles. According to O’Hare, he previously played bagpipes for the Eastern Connecticut State University commencement ceremony.
He continues to play the pipes for the Three Rivers Community College commencement, where he teaches. O’Hare said he will post updates on his Facebook page, “Will O’Hare Music.”
— By Claire Galvin, Chronicle Staff Writer