Tuesday, August 25, 2009

What's Going On in Pakistan?

I received an email today from Naseersons.com, apparently a Pakistan-based dealer in musical instruments.

Dear Sir,

We hope you are enjoying good health and you business is fine.
We revert you kind attention towards are Email date 18/07/2009 In which request you to take start business with the real manufacturing house Musical instruments. But still we are deprived from you encourage response.

While according to our information you are collecting the goods from our market. We have no objection but being a reliable byre kindly once examine our Quality and prices. If you will satisfy in all aspect then place us your trial order.

Best Regard,

Usman Naseer

Naseer & son’s
Sialkot, Pakistan
M: +92-346-6650366
F: +92-52-4569609

I decided to take a look at Naseer's website. Everything looked like the usual Pakistani offerings but one drum ("Ns-11108") jumped out at me:

I'd seen that drum before but I wasn't sure where. So I quickly scanned through all of the images on this blog and found this:

This drum is a 1937 Clayton Holmes original. See, "Clayton Holmes Drum, 1937", this blog, June 11, 2008.

It's clear that the top picture is either a crop job of the bottom picture or both pictures came from the same source. (Even the blemish at the 11:00 position above the vent grommet is the same.)

So, can anyone tell me what's going on?

20th Century RPPC Civil War Battle (1862) of Shiloh Musician

eBayer almanorbound ( 530) scored well yesterday with a sale price of $171.00 for this postcard described as:

Unique and rare RPPC of Philo L. Case who beat the long roll at the Battle of Shiloh - April 6, 1862. Card is postally unused and is in near mint condition - great corners and very clean image. s/h $3.00. Great picture of the man, the drum, his hat and medal!!!

Gettysburg Drum Corps, ca. 1908

This is somewhat interesting. eBay item no. 190329246311 from eBay seller libertysales1 ( 6127) is described as follows:






Enough shouting and exclamation points? I am sorry but even that is not enough to make this turn of the century (last century) drum interesting.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Alex Duthart -- Interview by Modern Drummer Magazine

Alex Duthart
by Keith Duff and Neil Kirby with Sandy and Michael St. James from MODERN DRUMMER, Oct/Nov 1980
All rights reserved

Ed. Note: This is for all the rudimental snobs (of which I was one) out there who disdain crush roles and thought pipe band drummers couldn't play. This should open their eyes as it did mine. These boys (and girls) can play.

Alex Duthart and British Caledonia Pipe Band drum line. The drums are Sonors (German) with Premier Kevlar Duraline or (Fiberline) heads. (ca. 1985,86) Source: Youtube, posted by SSA76, September 15, 2008.

Alex Duthart, renowned drum major from the Shotts and Dykehead Pipe Band of Shotts, Scotland, is a leader in the field of pipe band drumming. Since 1953, he has led his drum corps to several victories in the World Pipe Band Drumming Championships.

Modern Drummer: Where are you from originally?
Alex Duthart: Well, I'm from a small village in the county of Lanarkshire. The Lanarkshire area has coal mines and steel works and it is in the central belt of Scotland.

MD: Do you still live anywhere near the area?
AD: Yes, I live about 2 1/2 to 3 miles from where I was born.

MD: Your father was the first one to get you interested in drumming. Do you remember how old you were when you first picked up a pair of drumsticks?
AD: When I was a kid, I can remember playing with two forks on a tea caddy. I must tell you something about my father. My father was a good drummer. He used to teach James Catherwood who in turn went to Dr. Berger, the leading drummer with the D. L. Pipe Band. He was a real drum enthusiast and studied in Ireland and Switzerland. It was my father's mother that showed him how to lop a skin. In the old days it was a calfskin and you had to wet the skin and lop it. There must have been drummers in my Grandmother's family too. My father came from Northern Ireland so I'm of Irish extraction.

MD: Scotland seems to have the grasp for the majority of pipe band drummers. Are there many pipe bands in Northern Ireland?
AD: The Pipe Band Association is divided into branches. There is the Northeast branch, the West branch, the Glasgow branch and so on. The Northern Ireland branch has more pipe bands in it than Scotland.

MD: How about the quality?
AD: The quality of piping is slightly below the standard that you find in Scotland. But I wouldn't say that about the drumming.

MD: What sort of things were you listening to as you were developing?
AD: I was always interested in jazz. I liked the traditional jazz and modern jazz as well. When I talk about modern jazz, I mean Joe MorelIo and so forth. Now we all admired Gene Krupa and his era. It was a rompy, stompy thing, and that's okay, but as it progressed there were an awful lot of good drummers and I always liked good progressive jazz.

MD: But Morello is one of your favorites?
AD: That's right.

MD: He called you the "doctor of bagpipe drumming".
AD: Well, I don't know about that. I'm very flattered that Joe Morello said things like that because his opinion has always been valued. One time in Woodside Hall, Billy Stevenson, Bert Barr and I played an interval for Joe during his clinic. Joe stood on stage and he wanted to hear us. I was flabbergasted because Joe Morello was a great figure. For us to be asked to play, amateurs? Nobody would have dared to play but us. We played because we thought we had something to offer in our field which was entirely different.

MD: Did you exchange any ideas with Joe?
AD: Yes, I'1l always remember the following. We played two of our drum solos at his clinic and he stood by the whole time listening. Do you know what he said? He said, ''If Buddy Rich had heard these three fellows here today, he would have fallen flat on his face." I said to the other fellows in my corps, "If we never win any competitions, at least one man who knows what he is doing has recognized what we are trying to do."

MD: Are you a strong believer that all drummers should be able to read music?
AD: I would think the drummer is not complete until he knows something about the value of notes.

MD: In other words anything you can play you should be able to write down?
AD: Did you ever think that is quite a tall order to say, "I am able to write anything that I play." Think about that. That entails an awful lot, doesn't it? You go and pick up those sticks and play anything that comes into your head and write it down. In most cases, guys in symphonies, especialIy in the London Symphony, just don't want to know our style of drumming.

MD: Do you play traps?
AD: Yes, and when I play gigs and the other players find out I'm a pipe band drummer, they say, "Oh you don't know anything but ding-ding-a-ding." But I show them that I know more than that.

MD: Did you ever have your own band?
AD: No, just played gigs. In those days I'm talking about the old dance halls where you'd play from 7 until 11, playing one number. Nowadays, it's funky, but it's still the same.

MD: Do you see any similarities between the syncopation of bagpipe drumming and rock drumming for instance?
AD: No, but consider if you've got all these elements, you could certainly have all the elements of a rock drummer too because it's so simplified that if you had this at your finger tips you could make it really interesting. You may do the opposite thing, you may make it too interesting. You could make it too busy, having all this technique. Some of the things I hear rock drummers do are as open and lazy, but it's good.

MD: How do you decide if it's too technical or it's not, or if you put too much in?
AD: Do you know where you generally find this? You generally find this in a guy who doesn't read a note. He tries to play a thing he doesn't even know. He hasn't got the proper notation for that. He's either got too much or not enough. He doesn't know where to put the notes so that it gives you a relaxed feeling. It's generally guys that don't know a thing about note value that do this stuff. But, then, you get the natural fellow that can play relaxed and do everything just because he's been used to playing it.

MD: It seems to me your drumming shows so much technical ability as far as dexterity and cleanliness and precision especially in the case of the Shotts and Dykehead where you have seven or eight members in the snare drum line. What kind of practice routines do you do personally and does your drum section do? How many hours a day or days a week?
AD: Well, this is quite difficult to explain, because I write all the drum parts. And it's solely because we're a competing band that we sit down and try to do things. Now you could sit down probably some night and say I have a drum setting for a march or a strathspey (dance tune) and work for two or three hours and get nothing. And other times the tunes begin to get embodied in the head. You must know how the tune goes to really have a good setting. Then I fool around with a lot of different basic rudimental patterns.

MD: To fit the bagpipe music?
AD: That's right. Do you know what it is like? What comes first, the hen or the egg! How can you make up anything if you�re not equipped? If I'm not equipped with the sticks, if I'm not able to play, how are you going to be able to fit patterns to the music?

MD: How did you become equipped?
AD: I don't know. I've subdivided an awful lot of things myself. If you take the old phrase ONE-two-three-FOUR-five-six-SEVEN-eight... you see how you can build on it? It's like a tree, and a branch goes out that way. You have another twist of a branch that way, and another twist and another twist, that's how they come.

MD: What do you do to build up your hands and your dexterity to be able to play these kind of figures?
AD: Probably being able to execute the basic rudiments so that your hands are at will to do what your brain wants. Your brain takes over faster than your hands. Your hands can become free and you can do things.

MD: Did you spend many hours developing your rudiments?
AD: I never have done it in my life. I've spent quite a few hours working on somethings.

MD: You just naturally fell into having clean technique.
AD: See a closed drag. I think you call it a ruff, a three stroke roll. You may play a drag open. In Scotland we play it tight and closed. We have developed single tap rolls where we know exactly what we are going to do. I know not to go too fast or too slow because I know the proper notation. That's what it's all about.

MD: So you build up your technique based upon what the music requires.
AD: That's right.

MD: You don't have to sit down and say I'm going to play this rudiment as fast as I can by next week, regardless of the music.
AD: I've never done that in my life. I think you can become too methodical. Okay, you say it takes so many taps to play something. Then you say, at the end of the week I'm going to put in twice as many as these taps. Your friend says, "So what?" It doesn't matter how many taps you put in there, after you get to a certain stage it's a mess. There's a point you get to where you have to say to yourself, wait a minute, but how does it sound? With seven or eight fellows playing. You must be able to hear things as well. If you've got a drum that's ringing or an overtone in a drum you'll never hear half the detail that we play. That's why we play a sharp drum. You have to do it that way.

MD: We notice that the pipe band snare drums are very tight.
AD: In here, but take it outside and it will sound quite fat. If you were to take your dance drum outside it would sound like a top. That doesn't mean to say that the drum is not good. Your dance drum and your rock drum are good for inside and for the acoustics inside but if you take it outside, what a sound you get.

MD: So the pipe drum was primarily designed for use outdoors?
AD: Outside. Play it inside here and you get a terrible sound.

MD: What started getting the heads as tight as they are now? Do you use a double hoop?
AD: Sometimes, when I get down a certain distance and you haven't any money to buy skins you say, "Get it down and other turn there."

MD: What kind of wrench do you use to tighten the heads?
AD: Well, we have quite a strong key. Premier is strengthening up their keys. The small key is no good for that.

MD: There's a question of pounds. 35 pounds on top and 15 on the bottom.
AD: I don't know what I put on the top or what I put on the bottom.

MD: You go by sound and feel?
AD: If the snares are not up then I'll set up the snares and get them right. You see, this is the thing... this is what I'm amazed about and it's a great idea. But the American fellow says, "Why are you doing that? Do you know why you are doing that?" And I'll say, "Well I just tighten up to what I feel." And he says, "Well I'll just give this forty pounds of pressure." Well, that's sensible. What you're doing is sensible. We in Scotland have a certain attitude that what you are doing would be too much of a bother for us. I can feel a head, and the tension that is on it and I'll know if it will break.
It takes about two to three weeks to get the head right. You have to get the snares up really level and you've got to get them up so that you can work it, otherwise you don't get a sharp sound. On the pipe drum, the head should be about level with the hoop on the batterhead.

MD: Do you still use the Premier Royal Scot drum?
AD: Yes.

MD: Did you have anything to do the development of that drum?
AD: Well, we needed the top snares so that they were really hard against the skin. You see, the Premier Drum Company makes a very good article, there�s no doubt about that. But I don't think that they knew the sound that we wanted.

MD: Why has the ten-lug model come out?
AD: Because the hoops were warping. You can probably get finer tuning with it. But the main reason for it was to reduce the length of the hoop between the two lugs. In other words, if you reduce that space you're going to get a stronger hoop. As for the tone of the drum, I don't believe that there is much of a difference between the two.

MD: How often do you change snares on your drums?
AD: Not very often. It may be a thing that I overlook but I don't think I�ve changed the snares on the new drums, and when I say the new drums, they�re about 2 1/2 years old.

MD: What made you give up playing chrome drums?
AD: I don't see why I should be playing a drum that's about 3 pounds heavier, so I went back to the wooden shell. That�s the only reason. I quite liked the sound, it was a softer sound. But a lot of the judges didn't like it.

MD: Are there other materials used in drum construction that you like besides wood?
AD: I liked the metal shell, but there was a tendency for the shell to collapse under pressure. In Australia, it gets very hot. Down there they had several metal drums that collapsed.

MD: The wooden shell gives and takes.
AD: That's right. Now you take the metal there with the heat; once you get to a certain degree the drum collapses. It's a thin metal which is spun over on the edge and that makes it strong. But it's not as strong a wooden shell.

MD: Have you played the Premier Resonator double-shelled drum?
AD: I've only tapped it. Kenny Clare's idea. It sounded good.

MD: Do you foresee pipebands using double shelled drums in the future?
AD: I don't know. I've never tried it so I couldn't have an opinion on it until I try it out.

MD: Have you written any books yourself? Are there any Alex Duthart drum manuals?
AD: No, but I've started one.

MD: Will that be coming in the near future?
AD: Dear knows when! I've been asked to get quite a few different movements, and if I don't get it in print then somebody else is going to do it and they're going to reap the rewards. I think I should reap the benefits.

MD: Do you teach privately?
AD: I haven't got the time. I've got to work during the day and I've got to go two or three nights a week with the band.

MD: What do you think has been your biggest influence on bagpipe drumming and the development of it?
AD: First and foremost was A. D. Hamilton who is an orchestral drummer, he's about 82 now. He had an influence on me. My father had an influence on me. Then there was Jimmy Catherwood who was under A. D. Hamilton and Patty Donovan, the drummer from Dublin. Also the leading drummer of the Glasgow Police Pipe Band, Alec McCormick. Those were the guys that I was under and then I was on my own.

MD: Is that when you joined the Shotts?
AD: No, I was the leading drummer in the D.L. Pipe Band for 11 years before I went to Shotts.

MD: What year did you join the Shotts?
AD: 1957. But I won the World Pipe Band Drumming Championship with my drumcorps in the D.L. Pipe Band in1953. We came out dark horses. In 1953, we broke through with the drum corps, and started winning.

MD: You've won as the World Champion Drum Corps in every decade since the 1950's, is that correct?
AD: Yes.

MD: Do you see that happening in the 1980's too?
AD: Oh, l don't know, I like to play, and as long as my hands and my mind can memorize the settings, I'll play. Unless somebody comes up to me and says, "Look here, we�ve had enough of you." I wouldn't like that to happen. If my hands are not capable, or my memory is not absorbing and holding things... do you know how many settings we have to memorize to go out onto that field? There are seven tunes to a selection of music and there are two selections of music to learn. They (the judges) pick out one of these selections just before you go on to play. So that means you have fourteen minutes of memorizing to do. If you don't, you're not up to standard. So it becomes a memory test.

MD: Obviously, you are still growing musically. Are there any things you are looking forward to doing in the future as far as development of drumming styles in the pipe band?
AD: Well, I would like to progress. I've got quite a few things now which incorporate the swiss style of drumming. But you've got to be very careful because the sounds that are good to listen to at certain tempos are certainly not the sounds to listen to at other tempos. It's how you can utilize certain phrases and put them into your idiom. It's not always possible to do. It's hard to be original, to try and make things new all the time. It's very hard to do that.

MD: Are there any other drummers in Scotland that equal your ability?
AD: There are many good instrumentalists in the world. But in this pipe band game, you not only have to be a good snare drummer, you have to be quite a good composer and arranger as well. There's no book that you can go to and draw scores from. This is what I would like to be able to do. There's no use in having all this material of mine if it's not available for someone to look at. Give me six months off at my job - and pay me my wages - and I'll get my book out. I've got to work for a living. And when I come home at night, I've got to do two nights with the band. I've got to make up material and you don't do that in ten minutes. So, I'm pretty busy keeping abreast of things. What I was going to do was to compile a book of drumming scores. Now can you imagine, you get this book of mine and the first thing you open to is "Capt. Colin Campbell", a strathspey. Now, what good would it be?

MD: Yes, if you weren't aware of the notations and things.
AD: You'd say how the hell does this guy play this and how does it work in, man? There's a Book I and Book II, the Scottish Pipe Band Association book, now there's a start. What I've got to do is my method, going from point A to point B or point Z. That's what's got to be done.

Last Updated: 26/01/2006
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Site re-launched January 2006

DTSPB drummers and Steven McWhirter from Simon Fraser University (British Columbia, Canada) Pipe Band performing Alex Duthart's Fanfare at Robbie Burns Dinner January 26th, 2008. Source: Youtube, posted by cmckimm, January 31, 2008.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

History in a Drum (an 1809 Brown Drum) -- The Oldest Known Brown Drum in Existence

Recently, through this blog, sutler Leo Brennan (Ye Olde Connecticut Peddler) of Madison, Connecticut became aware of the oldest known Brown drum (no. 26, 1809; see "1809 Brown Drum Hits the Market") and, followed my advice "to break out the piggy bank, mortgage the house, and borrow from your friends if you have to, but get this drum." After a few weeks of effort, Brennan was able to acquire the drum. (Previously the oldest known example of Brown manufacturing was an 1810 drum.*)

In addition to a perfectly age-appropriate label noting the drum's number and year of manufacture, several inscriptions inside moved its new owner and his family to do some research on this drum's possibly colorful history, including a very important Civil War connection.

Here's Tim Brennan's email to the Blogmaster:


I have some new information on the blog posting of Saturday June 20 regarding the 1809 Eli Brown drum. I have done some detective work (the most exciting kind of work) and have reached some conclusions. The etching on the interior of the drum states "Posnet, 1st VT Vol, 1861 1864" Bear with me on this lengthy missive: The 1st Vermont Volunteer infantry formed April 19 1861. Recruitment swelled the ranks of each company to 81 officers and men. On April 27 the ten companies were designated the 1st Regiment. On May 2 the regiment encamped at Rutland where it where it practiced drill, parade and camp duty. The regiment was mustered into US service May 8 and departed next day to Fortress Monroe, VA, first by rail and then by steamer "Alabama", arriving May 13. Here the regiment suffered its first casualty by disease. On May 23 the 1st regiment became the first US troops to set foot on hostile soil when they made a reconnaisance in force into Hampton, VA and forcing the withdrawal of 130 Confederates. On May 26 the regiment boarded steamers "Monticello" and "Cataline" and went to Newport News, where they fortified their postion. On June 9th the 1st, along with the Mass 4th regiment and the New York 7th, engaged the enemy in the inconclusive battle of Big Bethel, then withdrew back to Newport News. On Aug.. 4 the 1st embarked on steamers "Ben de Ford" and "SR Spaulding" and proceeded directly to New Haven, CT and then by rail to Brattleboro, VT where their 3 months enlistment (actually 4) had ended. Of the 753 rank and file, over 600 reenlisted for 3 more years service, according to Gen.
Washburn and State Historian Benedict.

So why is this important? Records are sketchy from the time but based upon the established and staggering reenlistement numbers I find a "Daniel Posnett" (two t's at the end) of Fayston, VT enlisted in the 13th Vermont Volunteer Infantry on 8/25/62, some months later, after the 1st returned home. I submit "Posnett" is a corrupted version of the true name "Posnet" which is inscribed on the drum. Literacy and record keeping being what they were back then, alternative spellings were common. "Posnet" is not a town but a person.

So what of the 13th regiment in which our man Posnet(t) served, or perhaps drummed? OK. 10 companies were recruited, equipped and mustered into US service by Oct. 3. The regiment shipped out to DC on the 11th, where they joined fellow Vermonters of the 12th, 14th, 15th, and 16th to comprise the 2nd Vermont brigade. On the 27th they established "Camp Vermont" south of Alexandria, VA and proceeded to Union Mills, where they kept a picket line alonsgside the railroad tracks near the Bull Run. On Dec. 27 they repulsed Jeb Stuart's Confederate cavalry but the 13th was unable to pursue.

On Jan. 20 the 13th marched south to Wolf Run Shoals. An unevenful encampment ensued except for Company G asssisting a group of runaway slaves in their flight to Washington, DC. The 2nd brigade was not ordered into action at Chancellorsville.

Here's where it get's interesting: the 2nd brigade was ordered to Gettysburg, where it was to support the Union batteries on Cemetary Hill. During the battle the 1st Minnesota was annihilated by the the Confederates. The 13th Vermont regiment was ordered to prevent the Minnesota guns from falling into enemy hands. The 13th charged DOWN the very hill the Confederate general Pickett would charge UP a day later, secured and withdrew the Union guns, and captured 83 prisoners. The next day 10 men from each company buried the dead and put down fence rails some 45 yards ahead of the Union lines. The 13th regiment was ordered to the rails upon Picketts infamous charge, where they lay prone and fired a withering point blank and deadly fire into the shattered Confederate ranks. The charge broke upon the breastworks, and turned to the right, and the Vermonters leapt over, reloading on the run and firing with deadly execution into the enemy in pursuit. The rout was on, and the dazed Confederates began to throw down their arms. The 13th captured 243 officers and men, and suffered 11 dead, 23 missing, and 181 wounded. A period of inactivity ensued, until the regiment was ordered south on July 6, only to be recalled July 21st as it's term of service expired. Returning home to Vermont, again many members reentered service into different organizations.

So, did this drum see action at Gettysburg? Perhaps. I note in the original blog post the comment regarding the age of the drum (1809 manufacture) and the date of the war (1861), some fifty plus years. I think it more than coincidence that Daniel Posnett was the OLDEST enlisted man in the 13th Vermont at 49 years of age (!) when he volunteered. A family heirloom brandished in war by a patriot? I find his age, the date on the drum, his name in the drum, his name on the roster, the dates on the drum as compared to the subsequent three year enlistment: they all match. Please see website Vermont in the Civil War to back up all the above. I think that, just maybe, a small piece of the historical puzzle relating to the Eli Brown drums may have just fallen into place.

Thanks for listening,

Tim Brennan.

* "The mystery of when the first drum was made may never be solved. Virtually all known and verified Brown Drums have a distinctive label and date inside the drum opposite the air hole. The earliest date known to the Company of Fifers and Drummers is 1810 and bears serial No. 108 and the name B. E. & M. Brown, believed to be Benjamin, Eli, and Moses. Was the first drum numbered 1? Did the Browns make 500 drums before they started using labels and numbers?" The Browns of Wintonbury, Makers of Brown Drums, Wintonbury Historical Society, Inc.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Noble & Cooley Center for Historic Preservation

NCCHP is a new museum created to preserve & incorporate the rich history of Granville and the surrounding areas. The museum is housed within the historic buildings of the Noble & Cooley drum factory. The buildings & original equipment at the site offer a unique opportunity to experience "Yankee Ingenuity" as it impacted manufacturing from the mid-1800's forward. Here are a few of the photos taken July 4, 2008 by the NCCHP:

Wood-burning Rolls and Samples, circa 1870

Drum Presented to David Eisenhower in the White House, 1954

Replica of Drum Presented to David Eisenhower in the White House, 1954

Print Rollers for Printing Toy Drum Shell and Sample Printings

See also "Nobel & Cooley Printed Label", this blog, Dec. 23, 2008.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Live Thursday Night at a Theater Near Your -- DCI Quarter Finals

DCI 2009: Big, Loud & Live 6

Play trailer

Watch the 2009 World Championship Quarterfinals LIVE for the first time ever in HD on the big screen when they will be simulcast LIVE from the Lucas Oil Stadium into select movie theatres nationwide on Thursday, August 6th at 6:30PM ET/5:30PM CT/4:30PM MT/3:30PM PT.

See the top World Class corps perform during the Quarterfinals competition from the comfort and convenience of your local movie theatre.

Click here for a list of participating theaters for the Wednesday evening, August 6 live event.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Playing the Lambeg

Here is a sampling of videos of Lambeg drum playing posted on www.Youtube.com (search "Lambeg Drum") for more videos.

Massed Lambeg Drums

Part of the Ulster Scots cultural event held in Ahoghill on 12th July 2007, featuring the fifes and lambegs of glebe, dunminning, gloonan, moyasset and gracehill.
Posted on Youtube by gloonan504, September 21, 2007


Lambeg Orange & Blue Flute Band
Lambeg Orange & Blue Flute Band at their annual band parade and competition in Lisburn tonight. They had paraded into the city centre from Lambeg village before the other bands started parading.
Posted by gmc1981, August 19, 2006.


Ballynure Lambeg Drumming Club 12th July Festival 2007

This is a short video of the Ballynure Lambeg drumming club at the annual 12th of July Celebrations. The video was taken shortly before the colourful Orange Order parade passed off in Carnmoney, near Belfast, County Antrim in Northern Ireland. Lambeg Drums are common site in rural townlands all across Northern Ireland each summer. The Lambeg Drum is said to have originated from the 1600's. The drum itself is usually made from wood with a stretched goat skin and specially made bamboo canes. Usually accompanied by one or more Fyfe players.
Posted by gflview, July 15, 2007.


Lambeg Drum

Me drumming at Ballyleany LOL 11before a match in Richhill. My da is leveling the drum.
Posted by dopeman123456789, May 31, 2008.

Land of Linen and the Lambeg Drum

Land of Linen and the Lambeg Drum
Trevor Neill

The first settlers in Ireland arrived at least 6000 years ago. At that time the Lagan Valley was densely wooded from the valley floor to the piedmont and thus settlement would have been sparse. However at Ballynahatty, on the lower reaches of the River Lagan, five miles from Lisburn, there is the great man-made earthwork of the Giant's Ring. Other associated structures could be seen nearby until around one hundred and fifty years ago, but the spread of farming has erased them. It is thought that the Giant's Ring was constructed around 2000 B.C., so there must have been a reasonably structured society in the area by then.

From 600 A.D. raths or ring forts began to be constructed and all around Lisburn there are numerous examples. By the 9th or 10th century the O'Neills had established a major fort in what is now Castle Gardens and it is thought that the name of Lisnagarvey is derived from the Gaelic name of this fort Lios na gleanbhach' which translates as 'fort of the gamblers. It is believed by some that there was another fort going by the name of 'Lisburn' about the top of the present Hill Street. With the English settlement in the 17th century and the settlers' difficulty in pronouncing Irish names, it was a question of ease of pronunciation that changed the town's name from Lisnagarvey to Lisburn.

The next significant group to leave their mark on the area were the Normans who came to Ireland in 1169. As they gradually built settlements across the country they established lines of communication, with mottes at strategic intervals similar to Duneight just outside Ravernet. Other examples can be found at Edenderry and Dunmurry.

By the early 14th century Norman power was waning and the powers of Irish chieftains had a brief recovery. Lisnagarvey or Lisburn was under the control of the O'Neills, but after Queen Elizabeth's Irish Wars and The Flight of the Earls in 1607 there arose a new power, the `New English', who arrived during the Plantation of Ulster. Lisburn, with a sizeable part of South Antrim, passed to Sir Fulk Conway by Letter Patent in 1609. It is interesting to note that the Conways' forebears were Normans who, before that, were Vikings settling in the Seine Basin. So these people's travels in some ways mirrored the footsteps of previous settlers, many of whom they were now displacing.

This period of the early 17th century saw the foundation of Lisburn as we know it today. By and large the Lagan Valley at that time was very sparsely populated, and the new settlers that Conway encouraged to come, had to clear the natural forest from the valley floor and surrounding hills. Between the years 1600 and 1641 a great change took place in the appearance of the area, which had been so thickly wooded that it was said "A man might almost make his way from McArt's Fort to Lisnagarvagh on the tops of trees". By 1640, a shortage of fuel was being experienced at local ironworks so the deforestation must have been considerable as the natural woodland gave way to a cultivated landscape.
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Naturally the arrival of the new settlers caused great resentment among those already living in the area. This resulted in the rising of 1641, which for a time stopped the constructive work of Chichester (the Crown's representative) and his associates. The rising, which commenced so suddenly, spread over the greater part of Ulster and fortunate indeed were those areas which escaped destruction. Lisburn suffered greatly and Lisburn Museum has an early watercolour by Thomas Robinson showing an overview of the town from Largymore which clearly depicts a memorial to chose of the town who lost their lives in this rebellion. The war in Ireland dragged on for a period of twelve years and it was not until September 1653 that Parliament was able to declare it "appeased and ended". The whole period of the Commonwealth was one of great depression, due partly to external circumstances and partly to the state of devastation in which the country had been left by the rebellion. The letters which were written by Sir George Rawdon to Lord Conway at this time give a fair picture of the condition of the province as a whole. In a letter on 6th November 1657 Rawdon wrote "Some people who had leases are petitioning to give them up, having no money to pay the rent. You cannot think what misery is caused here by the ryalls...corn and cattle bring in nothing, any trade there is, is in butter." An additional problem of the time was a widespread cattle disease which, given the description, was possibly `foot and mouth disease'. This restricted export of Irish cattle into England, and losses of cattle in the Lisburn area were considerable.

The depression continued after the Restoration, though during the reign of Charles II conditions slowly improved. These improving economic conditions encouraged the noble Lords Hill (of Hillsborough) and Conway to devote money to improvements on their estates.

The death of Charles II in 1685 brought new troubles for the Protestant population of Ulster. The new King James II was a Roman Catholic and he was represented in Ireland by Richard Talbot, Earl of 'Tirconnell. Tirconnell made no secret of his intention to confiscate all the lands of the English settlers and so great was the alarm that many in the southern part of the country sold their property for what it would fetch and fled to England or Scotland. However Tirconnell's policy at the time did not extend to the north and the lands and estates around Lisburn remained intact.

The end of the period of unrest was at hand however, and with the advent of William III the Presbyterians and Anglicans buried their differences and joined together in support of the new King. For a time the army of King James had control of the Province (except Derry and Enniskillen) but the arrival of an army under the Duke of Schomberg in 1689 brought matters to a head. Initially Schomberg moved south and confronted the army of James at Dundalk in the Autumn of 1689, but the action ended in stalemate, largely due to the appalling weather. Casualties were high due to inadequate supplies, poor conditions and the fact that many in the armies were inexperienced troops. Schomberg retreated north and those who could march came back largely to the Lisburn area, where Schomberg made his headquarters at No. 11 Castle Street. The sick and wounded were brought back by sea from Dundalk Bay to Belfast Lough where a military hospital was set up in the Strandtown area in East Belfast.

A large portion of the army was quartered at Blaris (which incidentally had served as an army camp as far back as 1004 when Brian Boru had camped his army there) and a part of the cavalry were in the area between Sprucefield and Ravernet, known to this day as Troopersfield. Others were at Glenavy where two squadrons of the Queen's Regiment were quartered. In return for the kindness and hospitality accorded to all ranks by the warm-hearted people of the parish, the officers presented the church with a silver chalice which continues in use on special occasions until this day. The chalice bears the inscription `This plate was given to ye Church of Glenavy by the Officers of ye Queens Regiment of Horse, commanded by ye Honourable Major General Sir John Lanier, in the year 1690. In Honorem Ecclessiae Anglicanae'.

Other units were at Ballinderry, Derriaghy and Drumbo and some soldiers remains are buried in the Cathedral Churchyard and in Derriaghy churchyard. Amongst them is the Duke of Schomberg's pastry cook who died of food poisoning!

The extended billeting around Lisburn over the winter of 1689-90 and its effect on the soldiers' spiritual well-being obviously concerned their commanders because Schomberg sent to London for ministers of the Christian faith. He was sent four amongst whom was one William Doubourdieu who went on with the army for the rest of its Irish campaign but then returned to the Lisburn area where his descendants are still living.

The subsequent arrival of King William himself resulted in the relief of Ulster and in the ultimate defeat of James in 1690. King William spent a brief time in Lisburn on 19th June 1690 and dined with his senior officers in the house of William Edmondson, which stood on the site now occupied by the Northern Bank.

An interesting incident occurred during the Royal Visit involving a Lisburn Presbyterian minister, the Rev. Alex McCracken. With two others he had, some months before, been chosen to go to London with an address of welcome to His Majesty King William. The Rev. McCracken called on His Majesty during the short stay in Lisburn and was received with geniality. Later the same day the Rev. McCracken with the Rev Patrick Adair and other ministers awaited on the King at Hillsborough, who in consequence of their petition, promised to increase the amount of the Regiurn Donurn to twelve hundred pounds per annum.

Another story from this time tells of King William stopping in Lambeg at the blacksmith's forge, where the blacksmith was standing at the door with his pretty wife and two children to see the soldiers go past. However the soldiers were unsure of the road and William himself stopped to ask the blacksmith the right road. His Majesty asked his question in English with a strong French accent but to the astonishment of the company the blacksmith replied in French! The blacksmith's name was Rene Bulmer and he had fled France to escape persecution and made his new home in Lambeg. A house on Church Hill, Lambeg, is believed to be Rene Bulmers house and Rene is buried in the nearby Lambeg churchyard as are many of his descendants. The Christian name Rene is still used in the family although, through time, the surname has altered slightly from Bulmer to Boomer.

The Bulmer family were in fact one of a number of Huguenot families who had arrived in the area around the latter end of the 17th century. 'the Huguenots, who were French Protestants, had been leaving France because they were not allowed freedom of worship. From the latter part of the 16th century and all through the 17th century, families and groups of these people had been leaving France and moving to Holland, some further into Europe, others coming to England and Ireland, all seeking religious freedom.

The Huguenots in and around Lisburn were augmented by Louis Crommelin and the families brought over by him from France and Holland when the government entered into a contract with him in 1700. He was to invest 110,000 in machinery, looms and bleachworks in preparing flax and in giving instruction. In return the government would pay him interest of 8% on his outlay as well as a salary of £300 per year. The government undertook to maintain three assistants and a minister for the Huguenot colony. Crommelin established a bleachgreen at Hilden which was eventually taken over by another Huguenot family, the Delacherois. They in turn sold it to William Barbour and it is the site of the present threadworks which has been there since 1812.

The Lisburn colony was the only Huguenot colony in the north of Ireland that had a French church. It was situated on the north side of Castle Street, partly on the site of the Town Hall and partly on the site of what, until recently, was Dunnes Stores. One of its more outstanding ministers was the Rev. Saumarez Dubourdieu who was also the vicar of the Parish of Glenavy and, for fifty-six years, Master of the Classical School of Lisburn. His pupils erected a monument to him (a rare event) in 1814 which today can be found on the south side interior of Lisburn Cathedral. The congregation closed about 1820 and they, in literal terms, walked across the street and joined the Cathedral congregation where descendants still worship today. After the congregation had left the church, it served as a town prison and then as a court-house until it was demolished in the early 1880s.

Despite the investments and prosperity brought by the Huguenots, the early 1700s brought disaster and destruction when, in 1707, the town of Lisburn was accidentally burnt. The following brief account was made by the Rev. Joseph Wilkins, Rector, in the Cathedral Register:

"Memoranda on the 20th day of April 1707, the town of Lisburn, with the church and castle were consumed by an accidental fire"

The fire started on a Sunday while people were in church and before it was extinguished the town had been destroyed. A reminder of this event was recorded in a stone which was set in the wall of the premises adjoining the Assembly Rooms, (though it now resides in the Lisburn Museum) which reads:

The year above this house erected
The town was burnt ye year before
People therein may be directed
God hath judgements still in store
And that they do not him provoke
To give to them a second stroke
The builders also doth desire at expiration of his lease
The landlord living at that time may think
Upon the builders case.

The premises at that time were occupied by a Mr. Ward and were the first erected after the fire. The Museum has a watercolour showing the houses, the Assembly Rooms and Market House prior to Sir Richard Wallace's renovations in the late 1880s and this probably gives a good indication of their appearance after the rebuilding. Subsequent alterations in the 19th and 20th centuries have changed the appearance of the buildings as they were developed from dwellings to shops and further into shops and offices.

As the 18th century progressed, and in general was peaceful, trade prospered. The domestic linen industry was no longer domestic as it was exporting ever increasing amounts of its growing output. The once great Irish wool trade had diminished due to tariffs, introduced after the English wool merchants petitioned Parliament at Westminster chat the Irish trade was effectively undercutting them. As a sop to the Irish, encouragement was given to the growing of flax and the production of linen as an alternative and thus were sown the seeds of the industry which was to dominate Lisburn as it did many towns throughout Ulster.

By the middle of the 18th century a possibility that had exercised the minds of merchants and engineers was the joining of Belfast with Lough Neagh. The canalisation of the River Lagan was considered the possible answer. With the Lagan at Moira and Lough Neagh just five miles apart over reasonably level terrain, a canal link here had long been proposed. However it took the discovery and exploitation of coal deposits in east Tyrone and the construction of the Newry and Coalisland canals between 1730 and 1742 to give the necessary impetus to get the canal underway. In October 1753 the Irish House of Commons passed an Act `for making the river Lagan navigable and opening a passage by water between Lough Neagh and the Town of Belfast'.

Next was the monetary problem and, although limited funds were made available by Parliament, to raise the necessary cash, a duty on ale and spirits was levied. It was one penny a gallon on ale and four pence a gallon on spirits manufactured or sold, `within chat part of the district of Lisburn commonly known and distinguished by the gaugers walks of Belfast, Lisburn, Moira and Hillsborough'. The levy was less than enthusiastically received in some quarters and there is a story told about the distillery at Culcavey whose owners, rather than pay the levy, broke the barrels of whiskey and let them flow into the river that flows by way of `blind man's quay', alongside the Maze racecourse and into the River Lagan. Today this small river is still known locally as the `whiskey river'.

Construction of the Belfast-Lisburn section of the canal began in 1756 and work brought it up to near Sprucefield by 1763, when further construction ceased for a period due to lack of funds. In spite of this, The Belfast Newsletter of 9th September 1763 had a fine report of the first barge to use the canal;

At length in September 1763 the navigation between Lisburn and Belfast is complete. The first voyage was made by the Lord Hertford lighter of 60 tons with a cargo of coal, timber and other goods. The vessel belonged to Thomas Greg, a leading Belfast merchant, and his wife and he invited a large party to make the voyage and to dine on board. The principal gentlemen of Lisburn met the lighter at Drumbridge, a band played on board and a crowd of some thousand followed along the banks. The market square Lisburn was illuminated with lights at every window in honour of the occasion and there was a bonfire and barrels of ale provided by Mr Johnston, agent of the estate'.

The Lagan Canal had limited success, problems such as low water levels during the summer months restricting the size of cargoes. Water flows caused problems not only for the canal users but for the neighbouring landowners as maintaining the water levels in the canal slowed the run off and drainage from the adjoining land which was then subject to flooding.

The 19th century brought roads and road improvements and, with the arrival of the railways in the 1830s, the canal was facing increasing competition. The second railway in Ireland was between Belfast and Lisburn and opened in 1839. Rapid expansion to Lurgan, Portadown and beyond quickly followed. The junction out of Lisburn at Knockmore, with one line to Banbridge and Newcastle and the other to Crumlin and Antrim, opened a new world of better and speedier communications with a frequency that the canal could not match. However the Lagan Canal, despite its many handicaps, did provide a service to transporters of bulk items between Belfast and Lough Neagh which it continued to provide until 1958.

The 1798 rebellion by the United Irishmen did not have a great material effect on Lisburn though many of its citizens took part in the conflict in other areas. One such man was Henry Monroe who was to become the reluctant leader of the United Irishmen in County Down. Monroe was not a military man but a linen merchant who resided in the Market Square and worshiped in Lisburn Cathedral. He had not contemplated taking up arms against the King but had joined with the view that the excesses of the British Forces in the County Down countryside were intolerable.

Whatever his reasons, it was Monroe who led the forces of the United Irishmen at Saintfield where he defeated a British unit four days before the Battle of Ballynahinch. Monroe then moved to Ballynahinch with 7000 men where, on 13th June 1798, they joined in battle with the Crown forces under the command of General Nugent. They advanced along Dromore street in a flowing mass and Nugent, realising that he was being overwhelmed, ordered his bugler to sound retreat. The United Irishmen, unacquainted with bugle calls, mistook the call and retreated. Nugent, seeing the confusion, took advantage and routed the United Irishmen. Many were hunted down ferociously and Monroe was caught near Dromara. He was taken to Lisburn where he was hanged and beheaded and his head was set on a spike outside the Market House in view of his own home.

The 19th century saw further steady development of the town. In 1820 the new road to Hillsborough was opened with a new bridge over the River Lagan, which avoided the steep climb to the town up Bridge Street. 1837 saw the building of a dry dock in the barge basin just downstream from the Union Bridge. The dry dock was to help the users of the Lagan Navigation and, situated at a central position in the system, its building was a positive asset to the canal. The structure of the dry dock is still there although it was filled in when the road between Seymour Street and the Union Bridge was built.

Further improvements to the area were instigated by the inheriting of the South Antrim Estate by Sir Richard Wallace. The estate had been firmly in the hands of the Conway family since Sir Fulk Conway had been granted it in 1609, but by the 19th century the Hertfords did not take an active part in running the estate and indeed rarely visited Lisburn, leaving the management in the hands of an agent, although they did enjoy the considerable income the estate generated. The 4th Marquis of Hertford lived mostly in Paris and London and was not married. It is believed that Richard Wallace was his son and when the 4th Marquis died in 1870 it was to him that he left all that was not entailed, including the South Antrim Estate and property in England and France.

Richard first visited the estate with his wife in 1872 and it is recorded that the local populace erected an arch in Market Square on which snowdrops were laid out to form the words 'Cead mile failte'. Although he was also an absentee landlord, he took considerably more interest in the estate than did his predecessors. Under his ownership many improvements, both material and social, were made to the estate and he is honoured to this day in many of the place names around Lisburn.

The industry of Lisburn expanded dramatically during this period. In particular spinning and weaving increased to provide employment for the town leading to great accumulation of wealth and power by a number of 'Linen Barons'. Typical of these were the Barbour family from Paisley in Scotland who, as merchants, had been buying yarn in Ulster for shipment back to the Clyde for manufacturing. John Barbour saw the inefficiencies in this and in 1784 bought Plantation House, (which, though somewhat altered, is still there) at Ballymullan and built his first threadworks nearby. When John Barbour died in 1823 his eldest son, also John, continued the business until his death in 1831 when William (the younger son who was established at Hilden) bought the Plantation business and merged the two plants into a single operation at Hilden. In time this business was to become the largest threadworks in the world.
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Robert Stewart & Son also expanded during this period. A newspaper report of 1st February 1889 stated:

"Messers Robert Stewart & Sons, linen thread manufacturers, Lisburn have just completed the erection of a splendid new mill as an addition to their business premises. When finished, the mill will cost upwards of £30,000, and will give employment to some 250 or 300 hands, in addition to the 800 already employed by the firm............ For artificial lighting the agent used is electricity, and it may be remarked that this is the first mill in Ireland which is lighted throughout in this manner ...... the sanitary arrangements are on the most approved and perfect principal with toilets on every floor."

The end of the century saw the beginning of consolidation as improvements in machinery reduced the numbers of those employed. The effects of changing world markets and ever-increasing technology could not be held back for long and, since the Second World War, there has been a vast reduction in the numbers of people employed in the spinning and weaving trades. Businesses that continue today have survived because they maintained investment in new machinery and techniques.

The changes in manufacturing technology were tremendous but the 20th century saw even greater changes in social conditions, with workers' housing and health-care now being incorporated as part of the overall picture. Today, as housing stock has been improved, Lisburn has very few examples left of the mill workers' houses built by the mill owners in the last century. It is worth remembering that although, by today's standards, the mill houses were cramped and uncomfortable, in their time they brought improvements that were unthinkable previously. Parallel improvements in transport and communication mean that today the independence of the town of Lisburn seems under threat. As Belfast spreads, and many of the people of Lisburn and District work in Belfast, it might appear that a question of identity has arisen.

However Lisburn retains its own identity. From 1660 until 1884 Lisburn had the right of electing its own Member of Parliament - an honour conferred on the town by Charles II because of its loyalty to the Crown. During all those years and ever since it has always returned men who have been in the Tory tradition. In this and in many other ways Lisburn's citizens remain distinct from the neighbouring city. When Lisburn welcomed Sir Richard and Lady Wallace in 1872 in Irish, it illustrated a tolerance in views that still holds true today.

Important Dates from Lisburn's Past
2500-2000 B.C. Construction of Giant's Ring Complex.
500 A.D. Monastic settlements established from this date.
600 Raths and forts constructed.
1004 Brian Boru and his Army at Blaris
1602 Edward Bruce, brother of Robert Bruce, at Blaris.
1609 Killutagh acquired by Sir Fulk Conway.
1622 St. Thomas' Church (Lisburn Cathedral) founded.
1624 Sir Fulk Conway died.
1627 Sir Edward Conway carried out improvements to castle.
1641 Lisburn attacked by Rebels and the battle of Lisnagarvey fought 28th November 1641.
1658 Jeremy Taylor (later Bishop) came to Lisnagarvey as chaplain to the Conway family
1662 The Church of St. Thomas became the church of Lisburn alias Lisnagarvey, known as Christ Church Cathedral.
Charter granted to Lisburn by Charles II.
1667 Bishop Jeremy Taylor died 13th August
1689 Duke of Schomberg's army stayed in Lisburn and District.
1690 King William III stopped briefly in Lisburn 19th June.
1698 Louis Crommelin came to Lisburn.
1707 Lisburn accidentally destroyed by fire 20th April.
1763 Lagan Canal between Belfast and Lisburn completed
1774 First Methodist Church
1784 Barbour's threadworks established at the Plantation.
1794 Lagan Canal to Lough Neagh completed
1798 United Irishmen Rebellion, Henry Munroe hanged in Lisburn
1801 Alexander Turney Stewart born at Lissue, went on to build world's first department store in New York.
1839 Second railway in Ireland completed between Belfast and Lisburn.
John Balance (later Prime Minister of New Zealand) born at Ballypitmave, Glenavy.
General Mulholland born.
1842 Christ Church, Hillsborough Road opened.
1857 General John Nicholson killed in Delhi.
1863 Railway Street Presbyterian Church opened.
1872 Sir Richard Wallace became new landlord of South Antrim Estate.
1885 Thompson Memorial Home opened.
1890 Sir Richard Wallace died.
1914 World War I commenced.
1916 Battle of the Somme, many Lisburn men killed.
1939 N. I. military district HQ moved to Thiepval barracks.
1972 Lisburn Borough Council created from Lisburn Borough Council, Lisburn Rural District Council, Hillsborough Rural District Council and part of Moira Rural District Council.
1994 Linen Centre opened to celebrate and display the Linen Heritage in which Lisburn played a major role.

Author Sadly now deceased
A Lisburn man born and bred, Trevor Neill has lived most of his life at his picturesque home at Magheralave. Now retired from the civil service where he worked for the Department of Agriculture, Trevor is now able to devote considerable time to local history which has long been his great interest. He is currently a member of the Living Linen Project which is gathering an oral history of the senior management in the 20th century Irish linen industry. He also takes an active interest in Lisburn Historical Society in which he currently holds the post of Hon. Treasurer and he has been a regular contributor of local history articles to the society's journal.

Lambeg Drum

A republication of material found elsewhere (source identified below) on the Web:

Lambeg Drum
Stephen Matier, 2002

This drum is unique to Northern Ireland and the tradition is finding a small resurgence after having been dying out in recent years. The drum is a descendant from the European Military Drum. Used by Armies all over the world for marching armies and also for signalling troop movements and tactics over the noise of battle.

There are differing myths as to how this drum came to Northern Ireland, one is that it came with the Scottish planters in the early 16oo's and the other is that it came with the armies of William of Orange in the late 1600's.

The drum is approximately 3 feet to 1 metre in diameter and about 2 feet (60cms) wide. It uses very fine goatskin on each side, and in order to get as identical a sound from each head, it is preferable to use twin goats so as to get the skins as identical as possible. Only female goatskins are used as it is thought only these skins are fine enough and unblemished enough to give the best sound.
The drum is carried like a bass drum in a marching band and looks to all intents and purposes like a bass drum. It seems it started off as a bass drum but in 1896 someone had the idea of using malucca canes to play the drum with and it is this which gives the drum its unique sound. It is thought these canes which were imported to NI were used by jockeys. When played with canes the drum can be tuned very high in pitch and when this is achieved the drum becomes extremely loud (around 120 db) our drums have been measured at 115db. Given this volume the drum is designed to be played outdoors and can be heard over vast distances. At one Different Drum outdoors performance the Lambeg was heard about 6 miles away (without amplification)

Due to the history and political situation in Northern Ireland the Lambeg drum has become closely associated with the protestant/unionist community whilst the Bodhran has become associated with he Catholic/nationalist community. This segregation is not complete however as nationalists have used the Lambeg and protestants do play and make bodhrans, so there is a degree of blurring but the drums are perceived as belonging to one community or the other.

The skins are attached to hoops, called flesh hoops and these fit over the shell or barrel of the drum. Two outer hoops are then fitted on top of the flesh hoops and are roped together across the drum to provide tension. As the ropes are tightened they forced the two skins closer together thus increasing the tension across the head. Due to the size and tension these drums require, it takes at least two men to tighten them and the process of heading a drum is known as the long walk as the process can take up to two weeks to get the drum ready for competition.

The Lambeg Drum

A republication of material found elsewhere (source identified below) on the Web:

The Lambeg Drum
from the Website of the Ulster-Scots Agency

The Lambeg Drum, as it is colloquially known, is perhaps the most easily recognised instrument in Ulster culture.

Although not as common in parades as they once were, nevertheless the Lambeg Drums still hold a place in the folk memory and affections of many people.

In addition to being the loudest folk instrument on the planet, the Lambeg shares, along with the Uilleann Pipes, the distinction of being the only musical instrument indigenous to the island of Ireland.

Lambeg Drums can trace their history back to the period 1688-90 and almost certainly evolved from the large side drums played by the Dutch troops of King William III.

Sometime during the late 18th century, local musicians began to play the drums in the vertical position, thus enabling both ‘heads’ or skins to be struck. At this time the drumsticks were made of cork or wood and resembled tenor drum sticks currently used by many pipe bands.

Early instruments were constructed using numerous narrow pieces of timber (somewhat like a barrel) and were known as ‘stave’ drums. In parades these instruments were used to accompany one or more fifes - high pitched keyless flutes used by the military.

In the mid 19th century instrument makers began to form drum shells by bending a single piece of oak. Typically these measured 2’10” – 2’11” across the head and were approximately 23” wide.

By the early 20th century the demand for larger drums (up to 3’2” in diameter in some cases) coupled with the difficulty in economically obtaining oak planks of sufficient width necessitated a new method of construction. This involved fastening two 12” planks of oak side by side and bent to form the shell.

Popular drummakers included Hewitt, Bridgett and Johnston families of Belfast.

Various suggestions have been expressed as to how the drums obtained the name ‘Lambeg’. The accepted explanation is that during a parade in Lambeg c1870, the drums were played for the first time with Malacca canes instead of the traditional cork or wood headed sticks. This innovation enabled quicker rhythms to be played and dramatically increased the sound volume of the instrument. The practice of playing with canes quickly became widespread and thereafter when people referred to the drums they frequently used the prefix ‘Lambeg’.

The Lambeg drum is most commonly associated with the Orange Order; however the Royal Black Preceptory, the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the Masonic Order all used these instruments at various times in their history.

While Drum and Fife ensembles are enjoying a welcome resurgence, most Lambeg drumming takes place at competitions organised by the various drumming associations throughout Northern Ireland.

Lambeg Drum

A republication of material found elsewhere (source identified below) on the Web:

Lambeg Drum
Paul Marshall

There are two main ‘traditional’ drums in Ireland, the Bodhran, which is found throughout Ireland and in contemporary terms is associated generally, but not exclusively, with Irish traditional music (although it is onlya recent addition to that) and the Nationalist traditions. The second is the Lambeg which has its strongest associations with the North of Ireland and particularly with Unionist traditions.

There is a lot of interest in the Bodhran in frame drumming circles around the world, however the Lambeg drum is much less talked about. As an 'ethnic' or 'world' instrument, I think it is an awesome drum. As a drum and a style it is endangered.

As a N Irish musician, I am all too well aware of the sensitivities surrounding both these instruments. Until recently I refused to play either, I now play both.
The substance of this piece originates from a BBC television programme from a couple of years ago and from recent internet research, it is soon to be influenced by Gary Hastings excellent new book. Thank you to the BBC for covering this subject and thereby for supplying me with most of my research material (and a couple of photographs).

The name Lambeg is a generic name such as 'Hoover' for vacuum cleaners or 'Tipp-Ex' for correction fluid, they are also known as Slashers, Batteries, Tibbies and other names varying from region to region. Lambeg is an area near Lisburn, a few miles south west of Belfast. The name is said to have stuck because the first time the drum was played with canes was at Lambeg.

The loudest drum in the world?
The Lambeg could stake a claim to the title of the loudest drum in the world, it is frequently played at above 120db, louder than a small aircraft taking off and about the same as a pneumatic drill.

Physical Description
The drum is a large instrument measuring around 3’ across the head and 2’ deep, it weighs 35-40lbs. The shells are usually made from oak. Traditionally this would have been a single 24" wide piece steamed and bent, however trees like that don't exist any more and they are now made from two 12" sheets of oak supported by a hoop on the inside. Oak drums were also made using a barrel-like stave construction and occasionally a drum would be made from brass. The brass shelled drums are made from sheets of the metal

The Lambeg can be used in a stationary position (sometimes on a stand) but this is only for performance or practise, it is usually carried by the drummer. Generally a simple neck harness is used which hooks onto the drum and goes around the back of the neck! it lies against the drummer's belly which can work for or against the player, it depends... :)

When moving, a second person may be employed to support the front of the drum as they progress, it is not uncommon for several players to share the drum's journey. It is played using whip-like canes with one on each side of the drum. The drums are either plain or elaborately decorated with regimental, memorial, religious or political insignia.

The Lambeg can be played when simply standing, this is said to produce the best tone as the shell is at its most free to resonate. Occasionally the drum may be played on the rim but this is bad for the canes and therefore for the skins so it is rare.

The Canes
The canes are made from Malacca cane, the same cane that was used by schoolmasters, ouch!!. It is selected because of the absence of nodes or joints. Like all cane, once it breaks it splinters lengthways, fortunately these splinters are generally thin and hair-like on a Lambeg cane. A cane will eventually start to disintegrate with playing and will eventually be retired to become practise canes.

Drum Skin
The Lambeg is made using goatskin on both sides, there is a thicker and a thinner side depending on if a player is right or left handed, the thicker side going to the dominant hand. The skin is oriented on the drum so that the spine of the animal is central. This spine line should run at right angles to the cane so that when played, the belly of the cane strikes the spine and the end whips on to the thinner flank skin.

It is recommended that the skins are taken from female or 'she'-goats because they grow quickly, the skin is thin and strong and they will have fewer battle scars. The skins all receive a general treatment which will remove the excess flesh and any hair and 'cure' the drum for playing, it will also receive 'special' treatment that is a secret to each maker. A Lambeg skin is scraped very thinly and should be of even thickness and consistency all over as far as possible. For mounting, the skin is stretched over a wooden 'flesh hoop' (above) and tacked into place, this hoop fits under a top hoop which is then tensioned by one rope zig zagging around the drum and a series of pigskin buffs..

It is said that the “24” of timber is purely there to keep the two goats from fighting” :). When prepared for playing, the skins are tensioned to the point of breaking, pretty similar to the African djembe. It is important that the two heads are tuned exactly to the same pitch (both are batter AND resonant heads) as this generates the internal wash or tone.

Tensioning mechanism
The tensioning mechanism is straightforward with a rope being laced in a zig zag manner between holes in the two hoops. On the ‘V’ of the zig zag there is a leather sleeve called a buff that is moved towards the wider part of the ‘V’ to apply tension, or toward the thinner part to loosen. If your 'V' starts to look too much like a 'Y' and the drum is not yet tight enough then you need to loosen off the buffs and re-tighten the verticals. The tensioning process is done over a period of days before playing, tighten and settle, tighten and settle. It is said that it takes more man hours to get a drum to playing condition than it takes to do a weeks work.

The tuning of the drum is carried out by pulling slack out of the rope around the drum, similar to placing tension on the verticals of a djembe. Because of the scale of the drum and because you are tensioning the huge skins to their maximum, this is a job for at least two men preferably three; two to hold and one to pull. Finer tuning is carried out by the adjustment of the leather sleeves on the ‘V’ and the finest tuning is done by mallet, tapping gently on the rim. The act of ensuring that the drum is evenly tuned on both sides is known as levelling and is carried out, unsurprisingly, by a 'leveller' who spends his time darting around the drum listening for nuances in the overtone relationships and striving to bring out a strong, clear fundamental. This fine tuning is done during playing during 'Stick-Ins' (competitions). How anyone can hope to come away with any hearing after having your ear a foot from a 120db noise all day is beyond me.

When played, the cane gives a loud 'whippy staccato'. A fundamental 'wash' tone, builds up within the drum when playing. Some say it is like having a swarm of bees inside the drum. Others describe it as a fizzing sound. As I said, the decibel level is similar to a pneumatic drill and has a high pitched sound. On a Stick-In day, they can easily be heard a mile or more away. Sitting here this evening (August 2002) I can hear one in the distance coming from the direction of Conlig, maybe 3/4 mile away as the crow flies, I can clearly make out the rhythmic pattern. Different Drums report members of the public having commented on hearing the drums at a distance of over 5 miles.

Origin(s) of the drum
There are conflicting stories regarding the history of this drum, but the most consistent and likely are that it was brought over to Ireland from Scotland or N England in the early/mid 17th century by settlers with a military background or, more popularly, from Holland by William’s Dutch blues as a smaller drum of similar construction, sometime at the end of the 17th or early 18th centuries. At this time it was smaller, maybe 16”-18” and in both cases was partnered with the fife, a transverse flute type instrument. This was consistent with the European military music tradition of that time. Around a century and a half later, about 1840-1850, the drum had grown in size because of competitiveness between players, kind of "My drum's bigger than your drum...". The Lambeg is defined and recognised by its size, and its volume because of the canes. The drum quickly got to such a scale that the fifers became drowned out and largely the association between the two instruments is all but lost. Today the fife and Lambeg together are the exception rather than the norm.

In contemporary usage, the drum is mostly associated with the Unionist and/or ‘Orange Order’ traditions. What is not so well known is that the drum also has tradition within the Nationalist community, particularly with the ‘Ancient Order of Hibernians’. The tradition cannot claim to be as strong but it would not have been uncommon a few decades ago for one of the communities to lend the other a drummer and/or a drum for their own particular parade or march. The Orange order marches in July and the Hibernians march in August. It was not unusual to find drums stolen from one tradition and draped with a sash to hide the paintings, it was also not uncommon for them to be stolen back again by the other tradition in time for their own parade.

The rhythms (also known as the ‘time’) seem to be localised for the most part and are based around traditional reels, jigs and hornpipes, mostly from Scotland and England along with military style patterns of the time. Because now the fifes rarely accompany the Lambeg drums, the drummers usually re-play the tune in their heads and the playing group stays together.

50 years ago, the only music really that was played outside of cities in villages of both cultural backgrounds was 'irish traditional’ music. We normally associate that today in drumming terms with the Bodhran, which actually only started to form part of the 'trad' instrumentation at around that time following the work of Sean O'Riada. 50 years before that, the Lambeg and bodhran were seen in all parts and played by all traditions.

As the Lambeg was used by both the Orange and Green traditions, the Hibernian and Orange groups had largely the same repertoire. Naturally there was politically and historically oriented music on either side, 'party tunes', but there was a large pool of common ground.

It is sad to witness now that really there is shrinking cultural common ground for these instruments as everything of value is politicised and polarised, this applies to both communities. Unfortunately this polarisation is projected back erroneously as reflecting historical division. Future generations and much of the young generation of today will lose or will have already lost that detail and sense of perspective.

I have no scored examples of the rhythms played, but I will endeavour to gather some.

When are they played?
It is traditional for the drums to be played during the 'Marching Season' in Northern Ireland, July mostly, but there are local events outside that particularly during the summer months. It is apparently rare for the Hibernians to play the Lambeg nowdays.

The largest gatherings are stick-ins’ and are usually competitive. The largest of these takes place in Markethill in County Armagh on the last Saturday of July. Here you can see up to 70 or 80 drums and hundreds of drummers vying for various titles. Competitions do however occur all year round and the men standing facing each other, hoop to hoop playing until they drop to see which is the best drum and who is the best drummer. It is not uncommon to see blood on the skins from the rubbing of the wrists on the hoops or the knuckles on the skin over the playing period, which can be several hours.

Belfast step – the beggar man
O I am a little beggar man
and begging I have been
for three score years and ten
in this little isle of green
I begged for my supper
I had nothing else to do
But to slip around the corner
With my old ring-a-doo

My own experience
I used to play neither of these drums. That decision was taken many years ago solely because it is nearly impossible to play either without the 'baggage' with which N Ireland society embues its cultural artefacts. This saddens me but is a small reflection of the state of the place I call home. As you will have read in the body of this piece, the either/or view of Irish drums was not always this way.

I now play both drums.

Paul Marshall

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Lambegs -- Some Big Drums

Celebrating 1690 – the Year of European Freedom.
The Carrickfergus Pageant (Co. Antrim). Saturday 12th June, 2004.
Picture by Colin, South Down.
Source: The Twelfth Website

Mini-Twelfth demonstration. Saintfield, County Down.
July 9th 2004.
Picture by Robert Graham, Crossgar.
Source: The Twelfth Website

Thanks to reader George Kubicek for referring us to this article by Diana Atkinson on lambegs and their role in Irish history.

A republication of material found elsewhere (source identified below) on the Web:


The Lambeg Drum
Diana Atkinson

The lambeg is a large, double headed drum of approximately 93 cm [37 inches] in diameter, 61 cm [24 inches] in width and 20 kg [44 pounds] in weight, and is beaten with curved malacca or bamboo canes.

This unique drum, often known as the ‘goat skin’ or the ‘orange drum’, is generally associated with the ritual twelfth of July demonstrations held by the Orange Lodge in Ulster, and ‘was an integral part of the identity of Northern Protestants.’[1]

Whilst carrying out research for this topic, I discovered that sources of literature concerning the origins, construction and playing styles of the lambeg drum were extremely limited. This could possibly be related to the fact that those who have studied and written material on Irish traditional music, have noticeably ignored the lambeg drum and it’s tradition, primarily because it is classified by many as a Protestant custom, and consequently does not belong to the Gaelic or Roman Catholic section of the country. However, unknown to many, the lambeg drum itself was traditionally played by both members of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland and the Roman Catholic/Nationalist association, the Ancient Order of Hibernians. This therefore implies that at one stage during history, the lambeg drum was not confined exclusively to Ulster and it’s Protestant inhabitants.

Formed following the Battle of the Diamond in September 1795, The Grand Orange Order’s principal function and role was to offer a communal focus outside the church, and to assist society in an era when social welfare was practically non-existent.

Regular Orange Lodge meetings were a blatant excuse for song, dance and entertainment. It is therefore evident at this early stage in 18th century history that ‘music was an integral part of many of the proceedings.’[2] This is reinforced by the vast collection of Orange songs, anthologies and printed music which remain to support this fact.

Music within the Orange Order was, and of course still is, a significantly essential and imperative feature of their heritage, which not only ‘reinforces and reflects identity…[but] is an essential element of the ritual.’[3] ‘Music can express social attitudes and cognitive processes, but it is useful and effective only when it is heard by the prepared and receptive ears of people who have shared, or can share in some way the cultural and individual experiences of its creators.’[4]

Since the establishment of the Orange Order, the musical combination of fife and drum was the usual accompaniment for twelfth of July processions. Gary Hastings within his book, With Fife and Drum, describes one of the earliest accounts of a twelfth demonstration:

‘One party consisting of thirty companies…had one drum, and each company had a fife and two or three men in front with painted wands in their hands who acted as commanders.’[5]

The drum in use here however, is not the lambeg we have become closely accustomed with today, but is more likely to be a large side or snare drum.


The historical background of the lambeg is relatively uncertain and vague. Many theories or stories concerning the creation and development of the drum have been presented over the years, causing much discrepancy and incongruity. The most common fable is that the drums were first constructed in the town of Lambeg in County Antrim. It has also been highlighted that it was in lambeg that the drum was first played with arched canes in 1871, having originally been beaten with wooden, ball headed sticks up to this point. Famous drum manufacturer William Hewitt of Sandy Row, Belfast, additionally claims that his grandfather produced the first lambeg drum in 1870. Author Gary Hastings however, contradicts this tale, highlighting that ‘the oldest reference to them which I have [is that] two were bought for a certain Orange Lodge in 1823. They were called ‘lambegs’ as early as that and it is likely that they were made in lambeg (County Antrim) as I am not aware of any other explanation of the name.’[6] There is also the renowned legend that the lambeg drum was initially brought over from Holland by King William’s troops during the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. According to Fionnuala Scullion this theory could well be true, since a drum resembling the size and shape of the lambeg is displayed in Rembrandt’s 1649 painting entitled, ‘The Night Watch.’

Still others believe that the first lambeg was made for the battle of the Diamond in 1795, a befitting date which coincides with the founding of the Orange Order. A final anecdote told by Robert McLeese associates the lambeg drum with a bird known as the ‘Jinny’ Wren;

‘Ah, well, ye see, King William’s wee drummer boy was eatin’ this bit of cake, and he had the drum between his knees an’ he went to sleep, an’ all the crumbs had fallen onto the head of her…an’ he was to wake up the army the next morning’ an’ didn’t he sleep in, an’ all the army an’ King William, an’ didn’t this wee Jinny wren come down onto the drum for the crumbs, an’ wi’ her rattling on it, she woke up the whole camp, an’ she saved them from bein’ attacked…an’ that’s why ye’ll see a wee chitty wren on a lot of drums.’[7]

The common element discovered within these accounts however, is that they are all associated in some way or another, with two eras of prominent significance in Protestant history; firstly the conquest of William at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, and secondly the establishment of the Grand Orange Lodge in memory of King William in 1795. It is important to highlight however, that the formation of the Orange Order appeared to have no immediate connection with King William and the Boyne, since it occurred almost a century after the battle took place. According to Fionnuala Scullion, the connection between the two occasions ‘were made in the minds of the Orangemen who regarded their new society as a revival of an old tradition.’[8]

The most probable prototype of the lambeg is the 18th century long drum, a form of bass drum used in military music, which was hung around the neck in a horizontal position and was beaten on both heads with heavy knobbed sticks, much like the original lambeg drum. Ulster writer Sam Hanna Bell states that ‘it seems reasonable to me to deduce…that the big bass drum of a country band was the archetype, the original of the lambeg.’[9] It is therefore possible that, through time, experimentation and much modification, the long drum gradually developed into the lambeg drum as we know it today.

A number of men throughout Ulster have been connected with the manufacture of the lambeg drum, the most prominent of the past being Lecky of Cullybacky, David Wilkinson of Portglenone and William Moore of Ballymena. To my knowledge only one man within the province today constructs lambeg drums on a full time basis, and that is Thomas Louden of Dunaghy (Ballymoney), County Antrim.


Figured oak is believed to be the most suitable, preferred type of wood for the shell of the drum. Many other forms of wood such as mahogany, walnut and beech have been tested and experimented with, but the most suitable type appeared to be oak, primarily because of its life long durability against wood worm and accidents.

In the past the wood for the shell was steamed to facilitate bending around the template where it would have been left for a period of six months to a year.’[10]

The skin of a goat is the only material now used for making the heads of a lambeg drum, and is typically imported from Europe. Prominent Ulster drum maker, Thomas Louden of Dunaghy, informed me that his skins are imported from the continent, as goats in Ulster are scarce.

The choice of goat is an extremely significant part of the drum making process. Essentially it has to be a ‘nanny’ or ‘she’ goat, largely because their skin is of a much finer texture than that of a buck goat. This therefore explains why the lambeg is often considered or classified as a ‘female’ drum. Many lambeg manufacturers in the past have bred their own goats for the particular purpose of drum making, primarily because the skin of a wild goat would almost certainly be blemished and weakened by scars, bruises and scrapes from living in their natural habitat. These problems would undoubtedly affect the strength and durability of a finished skin. By breeding their own goats, drum manufacturers could therefore avoid this dilemma.

As indicated by Fionnuala Scullion, ‘November is the best time to buy a goat for skinning. By this month the goat has moulted and its skin is in the best condition.’[11]

As a means of removing the hair from the skin, the coats are usually immersed in a chemical solution for a specific duration of time. Whilst visiting Thomas Louden’s workshop in Dunaghy, he informed me that he stored his imported skins in a heated container for several weeks in order to dry them out, and make the hair easier to remove. Subsequent to this, the skin is then cleansed, to eliminate all traces of chemical solution, the fat removed with a wire brush and the skin is ultimately left to dry.

Once dried, the skin is shaved down to a become reasonably thin in texture, and it is at this specific point, that a special, secret substance is added to the skin enabling it to stretch easily over the flesh hoop and become slightly harder and tougher in texture.

The next procedure in construction is the matching of the skins into pairs, labelling them right and left. This process is vitally important as the skin on the right hand side of the drum needs to be somewhat heavier, as this is the side that undergoes the most pressure when the drum is ‘pulled.’[12]

A process known as ‘knocking’ subsequently takes place, so that any variation in weight between the two heads are balanced and each side of the drum is carrying the same level of stress.

The final step is the lapping of the skin onto the flesh hoops. It is imperative that the skins can move easily over the flesh hoop so as to avoid the skin splitting when the drum is tightened or ‘pulled.’

When the skin on the flesh hoop has fully dried out, all that remains to be done is placing the flesh hoop on the edge of the drum. Thomas Louden highlighted to me that if a flesh hoop is not used automatically, it’s shape can be affected by the changing temperatures. Louden showed me a device of a circular shape with several spokes, that he utilised to keep the flesh hoop in its spherical form.

Upon the drum’s completion, highly decorative paintings, similar to that exhibited on the banners of Lodges, are placed on the front of each shell. The portrait on each drum varies significantly, ranging from important people or events in Protestant history, such as the Battle of the Boyne or King William, to Biblical characters such as David and Goliath. This religious association highlights the highly respected, Christian aspect of the Orange Order. The pre-requisites or specific qualifications required to become an Orangeman are clearly based on Christianity, a ‘sincere love and veneration for his Almighty Maker’[13] and a ‘firm and steady faith in the Saviour of the world.’[14]

Each drum bears its own specific name, such as ‘The Lily of the Bann’, ‘The Terror’ or ‘Hewitt’s Pride’, and these must appear at the front of each drum, along with the particular Lodge’s name and number.

There appears to be much superstition and false notions concerning painted drums and bare shells[15], since many think that ‘some drums…that people are using at drumming matches, if they put a painting on them it destroys them. And other ones that there is no painting on is no use; when they put a painting on them it makes them a better drum.’[16]

An example of a ‘bare shell’ drum.

An example of a painted drum.

The lambeg drum is now played in a range of different settings, gradually moving away from the long-established twelfth of July scene towards a somewhat more informal occasion of entertainment and competition.

The majority of rhythms or ‘tunes’ used in lambeg drumming are based on traditional Irish hornpipes, and the diverging types of drumming rhythms can be sub-divided into two principal categories:

1. Single-Time Drumming
2. Double-Time Drumming

Single-time or ‘time-drumming’ was primarily used to accompany the fife at the annual twelfth of July demonstration. The ensemble required two or more lambegs playing in time with each other whilst accompanying the fifer.

Single-time drumming is a tardy, undecorative style of playing which makes use of syncopated figures and includes little or no ornamentation.

Single time playing is seldom heard nowadays, bar the few processions in County Antrim where fife and drum collaborations continue to assemble on the twelfth of July. One drumming devotee commented that ‘it’s a pity it was done away with…because it gave the drummers a rest…not only that, it was tuneful…and it was rhythmic.’[17]

Double-time drumming on the other hand has undoubtedly surpassed the twelfth of July processions as the main, predominant drumming context in Ulster today. Used chiefly at organised drumming matches, double-time playing highlights and displays a drummers skill, strength and endurance.

This style of drumming is palpably more rapid and elaborate than single-time playing, and is unquestionably more appropriate for the rhythmic embellishments and improvisations of the individual drummer.

It seems that since bamboo or malacca canes were introduced to replace the originally heavy, ball-headed drum sticks, and the increasing tension and tightening of drum heads, that the speed of double-time drumming has accelerated, so that haste, energy and rhythmic decoration are its most characteristic features, qualities which all depend on the skill and capability of each drummer. One renowned attribute of double-time drumming is the ‘roll’, an improvisatory idea based on an extended triplet figure:

Nowadays the enrolment of drummers is usually kept within the family, being passed down from generation to generation. The art of lambeg drumming is usually picked up over the years by listening to and attending numerous matches throughout the province, as opposed to having any formal learning or tuition. The most frequently employed practice technique when learning to play the lambeg, is said to be the drumming of two pennies on a table or hard surface.

As a means of remembering specific rhythms and drumming tunes, many memory aids and mnemonic devices have been produced to help drummers determine the specific rhythmic schemes for both single and double-time playing.
Example: ‘With Your One Pound Ten.’


Drumming matches or competitions became considerably more prominent during the second half of the 19th century, as a means of testing both the fortitude and proficiency of the drummer, as well as his lambeg’s tone, volume and general worth; features which became more important than it’s actual musicality.

These confrontational, challenge matches were formerly known as ‘stick-ins’ or ‘set-tunes’, and were held regularly in all the major drumming towns in Counties Down, Armagh and Antrim. The primary intent of these rival competitions was the suppression of one mans opponent either by resilience, volume or artifice, so much so that the weaker drummer could not hear his own rhythms and therefore admit defeat.

Over the years however, focus has gradually shifted onto the musical ability of the drummer and tone quality of the drum, as opposed to the intense determination and vigour witnessed in the former, pre-war stick-ins.

In the beginning, a number of drumming organisations came into existence because of occasional brawling between drummers from alternative regions, over judgments or verdicts made in drumming matches. The eventual division into several different drumming societies throughout Ulster appeared to have resolved these problems of conflict and disagreement. By the year 1950 five drumming associations had been formed; Ulster, Mid-Ulster, Lagan Valley, Antrim, and finally Armagh and Down. The intention of separation into diverging associations was not to eliminate all rivalry, but to organise the matches in more professional, appropriate manner. Rivalry and stamina are key features of these challenge matches, and in the past some competitions have been so competitive that the match lasted an astounding nine hours.

Matches take place every Saturday evening during the months of February to November, customarily in Orange Halls throughout Ulster. The atmosphere at these competitions is overflowing with excitement and tension, with devout drumming fanatics travelling miles across the province to attend these exhilarating drumming matches. To enter as a competitor you are required to be a member of one of the five drumming associations in Ulster, otherwise you can act as a spectator, commenting on the drums and offering advice. Generally there are limited numbers of women present at these competitions, with those that do attend being either the wives or girlfriends of those competing.

Once the drums have been ‘pulled’ they are taken out into the open air where the fine tuning process of ‘knocking’ takes place around the hoops, in order to balance the tension of the two drum heads. ‘A great show is made of tapping the hoops on either side and listening with exaggerated care.’[18]

Upon completion of this procedure the event is then ready to begin, and in relation to the rules of both the Ulster Drumming Association and the Armagh and Down Association, there must be ‘no pulling of drums after the competition has commenced.’[19] Two judges selected by the specific association committee, are appointed to adjudicate the competition. Fionnuala Scullion describes in detail Belfast drum maker, William Hewitt’s experience of judging drumming competitions in the past:

‘His stated reason for stopping was that he lost too many friends in the process. ‘Because there’s about five people at a competition thought I should give to each of them you know. Like ‘I was always a good customer of yours and I was dacent till you.’[20]

A drum manufacturer more than anyone else is liable to face all forms of criticism, as opposed to any other man occupied in a different profession unconnected to lambeg drum construction since, ‘a drum maker elected as judge might be biased in favour of one of his own drums.’[21] The position of adjudicator or moderator was therefore extremely unpopular and disliked.

Weekly competitions begin promptly at 8 pm. The general standing formation in early stick-in matches consisted of participants positioning themselves in a circle, with the judges walking around listening intently to each drummer. Nowadays most competitors stand as far away from one another as possible, so as not be distracted by the other drummers volume or technique.

Within these matches all drummers beat in unison. As the judge proceeds to walk around, reaching each man in succession, he listens attentively for approximately one minute from each head of the drum, and from in front and behind the drummer, marking the piece of card that hangs from each drum with a mark out of ten. It is the contender’s intention not to quash his opponent, like the original stick-in competitions, but to demonstrate his adroit musicianship to those observing and most importantly to the judges.

All drumming matches are based on an arrangement of rounds. In the commencing round, each judge awards a maximum of ten points and only those drummers with a total of twenty points can advance into round two. As drummers gradually fail to attain full marks in each round, they are eliminated ‘until the number is sufficiently small enough for each competitor to be assessed on individual merit.’[22]

It is compulsory that the competition must cease at 11 pm and any member who breaches this regulation will be suspended from competing in all competitions for a period of a month. The outright winner receives a cup or trophy to celebrate his victory.

Many drummers are under the impression that it is the quality of the lambeg drum sticks or canes which produces the drums resultant tone. Drummers and drum-makers alike apply a unique chemical solution to the skins of the drum in order to attain the required tone quality. Additionally, striking the drum skin in the correct place is also considered essential for tonal purposes, as well as an even balance in both hands. The drum itself must also be of a superior quality and must suit the type of man drumming it. ‘In the long run it is a combination of a good drum, good sticks and the skill and strength of the drummer.’[23]

As mentioned in the opening paragraphs to this essay, lambeg drums were also used by the Nationalist organisation, the Ancient Order of Hibernians. Various myths have been circulating for years, concerning the members of the AOH and the Orange Order discussing and even disputing over the possession of lambeg drums. There are additional fables pertaining to the occurrence of loan exchanges of drums between both organisations, as their specific marches would have taken place on different dates. In the situation of those drums that were painted, special decorations according to the occasion were used to disguise the drums.

In contrast to the Orange Order, the AOH had few lambeg drums. However, many displeased Roman Catholics viewed this ‘borrowing’ procedure as a direct imitation of the Orange Order. Fionnuala Scullion, interviewing a certain Willy Nichol, emphasises that the Hibernian drumming tradition declined dramatically as a result of the ‘IRA boys and Sinn Feiners’ calling them nothing more than ‘Green Orangemen. They thought they had to make a difference - they had to give it up.’[24]

The AOH drummers appeared to have held drumming competitions and challenge matches similar to those organised by the Orangemen. Willy Nichol additionally highlights that these ‘Ribbon’ men also obtained their lambegs from drum maker William Hewitt of Sandy Row in Belfast.

Few Hibernian drums are in existence today, the most prominent survivor however is ‘Remember the Glories of Brian Boru’ now stored in Kilrea, County Londonderry.

In conclusion, the lambeg drumming tradition in Ulster is indisputably continuing to thrive and prosper. Within the Ballymoney and Ballymena areas alone, the production and competitive playing of lambeg drums is becoming increasingly popular and well-known. When initially arranging a meeting and discussion with drum maker Thomas Louden, he advised me to visit during the afternoon rather than in the evening, as his workshop would be extremely busy with drummers collecting drums, and men requiring skins. This therefore highlights the increasing interest in the lambeg drum, it’s heritage and it’s musicality.

[1]Hastings, Gary. With Fife and Drum, Music, memories and customs of an Irish tradition, (Belfast: The Blackstaff Press, 2003), pp. 9-10.

[2]Hastings, (2003), p. 3.

[3]Hastings, (2003), p. 10.

[4]Quote by John Blacking in, The lambeg and the Bodhran, by Rina Schiller, (Belfast: Queen’s University, Belfast, 2001), p. 41.

[5]Hastings, (2003), p. 8.

[6]Scullion, Fionnuala. The lambeg in Ulster, (1982), p. 4.
[See also, Scullion, Fionnuala. 'History and origins of the Lambeg drum'. Ulster Folklife, 27 (1981), 19-38. ISSN 00827347. And see, Scullion, Fionnuala M.B. 1982 The Lambeg Drum in Ulster. MA, Queen's University Belfast.]

[7]Quote by Rab McLeese in, Hastings (2003), p. 13

[8]Scullion, (1982), p. 2.

[9]Ibid., p. 8.

[10]Ibid., p. 64.

[11]Ibid., p. 68.

[12] ‘Pulled’: the tightening of the heads, by pulling the ropes round the drum.

[13]Hastings, (2003), p. 2.

[14]Ibid., p. 2.

[15]Bare-Shell: an unpainted drum.

[16]Scullion, (1982), p. 73.

[17]Scullion, (1982), p. 35.

[18]Ibid., p. 53.

[19]Ibid., p. 54.

[20]Ibid., p. 54.

[21]Ibid., pp. 54-55.

[22]Ibid., p. 56.

[23]Ibid., p. 59.

[24]Hastings, (2003), p. 60.


Buckley, Anthony. Symbols in Northern Ireland, (Belfast: The Institute of Irish Studies, Queen’s University, Belfast, 1998).

Hastings, Gary. With Fife and Drum, Music, memories and customs of an Irish tradition, (Belfast: The Blackstaff Press, 2003).

Scullion, Fionnuala. The Lambeg Drum in Ulster, (1982).

Schiller, Rina. The Lambeg and the Bodhran, (Belfast: Queen’s University, Belfast, 2001).

[Editor's Note: Unfortunately, unlike books, websites sometimes go out of existence. Some of the references below are no longer available. In an effort to preserve the content of those references that do remain, we will be republishing them in these blog pages so as not to see any more of them disappear from the Internet, perhaps forever.]

[Lambeg Drum]

[The Lambeg Drum]

[Battlehill Loyal Orange Lodge No. 395]
http://www.battlehill395.freeserve.co.uk/the%20lambeg%20drum.htm [No Longer Available]

[Lambeg Drum by Stephen Matier, 2002]

www.markethillulster-scots.org.uk/lambegdrums.htm [No Longer Available]

http://www.dlol10.utvinternet.com/lambeg.htm [No Longer Available]

http://www.lark.phoblacht.net/understanding.html [No Longer Available]

[Land of Linen and the Lambeg Drum by Trevor Neill]

http://www.grandorange.org.uk/parades/big_drum_sound.html [No Longer Available]

[The Lambeg Drum of Ireland]

[Building - Methods Seamus O'Kane Employs to Constuct his Bódhrans]

Distant Drums, A selection of music featuring the Fife and Lambeg drum, by Galgorm Parks Fife and Drum Group, DD507CD.

With Fife and Drum, by Gary Hastings, (2003).


Drumming Match

A Lambeg drum, commonly known as a lambeg, has a diameter of 90 cm, a depth of about 75 cm and a weight of over 2 kilograms. The frame is made of oak and it is covered in goatskin. Its precursor was the bass drum the frame of which originally, like the lambeg, was made of one piece of wood overlapped and rivetted. They are unique to Ireland and are associated with the Orange Order and the 12th of July.

They are also used, as here, in challenge matches which test both the skill and endurance of the drummer and the quality of the drum. Often rival drummers meet head to head with the dominant drummer making the weaker drummer unable to hear his drum and so lose his rhythm. As Fionnuala Scullion says in her article "History and Origins of the Lambeg Drum" (Ulster Folklife 27 1981) "the qualities of musicianship most admired in a drummer are said to be the ability to sustain an even rhythm, the balanced use of right and left hands and clever use of ornamentation". She adds "Ballymena drummers are said to be the best in the province". This photograph is taken on a side road just outside Ballymena.