Ball State student fights preachers by playing bagpipes

<p><i style="background-color: initial;">Hunter Gross // Provided Photo</i></p>

Hunter Gross // Provided Photo

For six years, Eamon Declan Hegarty has been playing bagpipes. And by the sixth week of his college career, everyone at Ball State knew it.

The freshman telecommunications and theatrical studies major received word of two protesting preachers at the busiest intersection on campus Sept. 27.

Hegarty said he picked up his bagpipes from his dorm room at LaFollette Complex and headed to the intersection. When he arrived, there were dozens of people on the corner.

Amidst the preachers yelling things like, “You deserve to get throat cancer,” he stood there and played.

“Somebody was saying there’s these guys down at the Scramble Light yelling all of this racist and sexist stuff and yelling Bible quotes at people,” Hegarty said. “I wasn’t having any of that.”

Hegarty weaved himself through the crowd of angry college students, positioning his body directly in front of the preachers.

“I showed up and everyone was going nuts about it,” he said. “One thing I noticed about the street preachers is that they want you to get angry at them. They want to get a reaction out of you. I thought, you know, in order to drown out the hatred, I’ll just play some music for them.”

For the next hour and a half, he calmly played the instrument he loves. A love that stems back six years, when his grandmother asked him if he wanted to try something new.

Coming from an Irish background, Hegarty's grandmother always wanted someone in her family to play the bagpipes. After struggling to play the guitar at first, Hegarty decided to give it a shot.

“I started taking lessons when I was in middle school,” he said. “I really enjoyed it, and it stuck. It’s really out there, and it’s not something that you see every day.”

One of his first interactions with the bagpipes was with Bill Arnold, the music director of the St. Patrick’s Day Rogues Pipes & Drums, an Indianapolis band which consists of six bagpipers and eight drummers.

“I first met [Hegarty] when he was about 10, and I was playing the bagpipes at a funeral outside of Indianapolis,” Arnold said. “His mom, Patty [Hegarty], introduced herself and here’s this young ‘fella, considerably smaller than he is now, with a grin on his face. He told me that he was going to play the bagpipes.”

And he did.

After Hegarty received his first set of pipes, his mother brought them to Arnold to fix. Arnold installed a new bag and from there, Hegarty’s passion for the instrument took off.

In high school, he was a founding member of the Scecina Memorial High School Pipe and Drums Corps. He played at weddings and funerals to make money on the side, and he even joined Arnold’s band along the way.

He did this all on his own, Arnold said, something the 32-year bagpiper admired in the now 18-year-old musician.

“His passion for music and the arts in general is boundless,” Arnold said. “He’s the kind that used to irritate me when I was younger when my mom would say, ‘Oh, why couldn’t you be more like him?’”

Along with bagpipes, Hegarty plays the accordion, piano, organ, keyboard, ocarina, Irish whistle and tuba. This wide depth of musical knowledge makes him right at home with Arnold's band, which is embedded in the Irish community in Indianapolis.

Outside of the musical realm, Arnold said he is equally as impressed with the way Hegarty approaches things in life. He wasn’t at all surprised when he got word of what Hegarty did to contest the preachers on campus.

“They were getting together spewing this hatred, and that was injustice I think,” Arnold said. “With the passionate guy that [Hegarty] is, I could absolutely see him doing something like that.”

Hegarty doesn’t plan on stopping his opposition to these protests either. He said he wants to continue using his instrument to unify Ball State students against some of the hateful messages that visiting preachers may spread.

“Among all of the other counter-protesting going on, there were the bagpipes,” he said. “I was raised Catholic. I’m a practicing Catholic, and what those guys were preaching was not Christianity, no matter what way you slice it. … They say they were doing it out of love, but they were just spitting this racist, horrible stuff.”

Hegarty was out at the Scramble Light again Sept. 30 alongside the Secular Student Alliance, who was awaiting preachers that were scheduled to come.

As Hegarty’s friends continue to update him on when protestors will come, he will be out there, playing his bagpipes.


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