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Student performs Irish music for President

Molly Madden | Wednesday, March 25, 2009

William McTighe, a freshman and a member of the Shannon Rovers Irish Pipe Band – based in Chicago – invited, along with eight of his fellow band members, by President Barack Obama to perform at the White House on St. Patrick’s Day last week.

“President Obama was hosting a party at the White House on St. Patrick’s Day and he wanted to put on a display of Irish music and culture,” McTighe said.

The Shannon Rovers Irish Pipe Band is a bagpipe ensemble that was founded in 1926 to “promote the music of the Gael.” The band has more than 90 members and has played for every sitting president since John F. Kennedy. McTighe’s connections with the prominent band go back to his infancy.

“I got involved because my father has been the band manager since I was a baby,” McTighe said.

McTighe said when he first heard about the invitation he was excited, but was unsure as to why the president had selected the Shannon Rovers specifically.

“We are not sure why we got invited, but since we are the official band of Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade and are supported by Mayor Daley of Chicago, we think that might have had something to do with it,” he said. “But we do know that he wanted a connection to the Irish community in his hometown.”

McTighe recalls being in a state of disbelief when he first heard that an invitation had been extended to the Shannon Rovers.

“I first found out about the invitation on the Tuesday before fall break when my dad called me, but I didn’t believe him at all; I thought he was joking,” he said. “I didn’t know he was serious until he asked me for my social security number and driver’s license number because the White House needed them for a background check.”

Once the knowledge that he would be performing in the White House had sunk in a little bit, McTighe said the excitement began to take hold of him.

“I was on cloud nine for a couple of days and just felt great,” he said. “As the time got closer though, I was honestly very nervous and did not know how I would react once I was there.”

McTighe said he and the other Rovers were flown out of Chicago on Tuesday morning so they would be there in time to perform later that afternoon.

“When we first got to the White House, we were shown to a changing room in the basement after a security check,” McTighe said. “We waited there and finished tuning before we were ready to play. A couple of minutes before we played a military person that was on staff came in and gathered us together for a group shot with Mr. and Mrs. Obama. We got to meet them and shake their hands.”

After meeting the President and First Lady, McTighe and his band mates performed in various locations in the East Wing and then they were moved to play in the State Dining Room.

“Afterwards we were allowed to put our instruments away and come up and enjoy the party and mingle with the guests,” McTighe said.

The party guests included prominent Irish Americans as well as Irish dignitaries including the Prime Minister of Ireland, Brian Cowen.

“We got to meet Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, Ethel Kennedy, the Cowens, and John Kerry,” McTighe said. “We also talked to other senators and congressman at the party, but we had no idea who they were outside of Dick Durbin from Illinois.”

McTighe also got to talk to President Obama once more and found him to be an average, personable guy.

“It was quite the experience meeting President Obama, but at the same time he seemed like a real person,” McTighe said. “While it is definitely pretty cool meeting someone like that, it didn’t seem out of this world; he was still an average person. I liked that aspect very much and thought that was what was most intriguing.”

McTighe said his experience at the White House was a memorable one and will stay with him for years to come.

“Overall, I thought it was a great experience and was something that comes around once in your lifetime so it is definitely something that you have to take advantage of,” he said. “It is very cliché but it is one of those things that you can tell your children and grandchildren about.”

One memory from the trip stood out to McTighe.

“The most memorable thing about my White House visit was that I got to go there pantless; not many people can say that.”