lambeg is a large, double headed
approximately 93 cm in diameter, 61 cm in width and 20 kg in weight,
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
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
Regular Orange Lodge
meetings were a blatant excuse for song, dance and entertainment. It is therefore evident at
this early stage
century history that ‘music was an integral part of many of the
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
identity…[but] is an essential element of the ritual.’
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:
party consisting of thirty
companies…had one drum, and each company had a fife and two or three
front with painted wands in their hands who acted as commanders.’
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.
HISTORY AND ORIGINS OF THE LAMBEG DRUM
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.’
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
much like the original lambeg
CONSTRUCTION OF THE DRUM
A number of men throughout
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
would have been left for a period of six months to a year.’
of a goat is the only material now used for making the heads
of a lambeg drum, and
is typically imported from
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.
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
vitally important as the skin on the right hand side of the drum needs
somewhat heavier, as this is the side that undergoes the most pressure
drum is ‘pulled.’
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.’
drum’s completion, highly decorative paintings, similar to
that exhibited on the banners of Lodges, are placed on the front of
shell. The portrait
on each drum varies
significantly, ranging from important people or events in Protestant
such as the
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
An example of a painted drum.
PLAYING THE 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.
on the other hand has undoubtedly surpassed the twelfth of July
the main, predominant drumming context in
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:
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.’
challenge matches were formerly known as ‘stick-ins’ or ‘set-tunes’,
held regularly in all the major drumming towns in
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.
the beginning, a number of drumming organisations
came into existence because of occasional brawling between drummers
alternative regions, over judgments or verdicts made in drumming
eventual division into several different
drumming societies throughout
Matches take place
every Saturday evening during the months of February to November,
in Orange Halls throughout
Once the drums have
been ‘pulled’ they are taken out into the open air where the fine
process of ‘knocking’ takes place around the hoops, in order to balance
tension of the two drum heads. ‘A
show is made of tapping the hoops on either side and listening with
Upon completion of
this procedure the event is then ready to begin, and in relation to the
of both the Ulster Drumming Association and the
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
was always a good customer of yours and I was dacent
manufacturer more than anyone else is liable to face all forms
of criticism, as opposed to any other man occupied in a different
unconnected to lambeg
drum construction since, ‘a
drum maker elected as judge might be biased in favour
of one of his own drums.’
Weekly competitions begin promptly at . 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
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
small enough for each competitor to be assessed on individual merit.’
It is compulsory that the competition must cease at 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
striking the drum
skin in the correct place is also considered essential for tonal
well as an even balance in both hands.
The drum itself must also be of a superior quality
must suit the
type of man drumming it. ‘In
run it is a combination of a good drum, good sticks and the skill and
of the drummer.’
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
many displeased Roman Catholics
viewed this ‘borrowing’ procedure as a direct imitation of the Orange
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.’
The AOH drummers
appeared to have held drumming competitions and challenge matches
those organised by the
Nichol additionally highlights that
these ‘Ribbon’ men also obtained their lambegs
drum maker William Hewitt of Sandy Row in
Few Hibernian drums
are in existence today, the most prominent survivor however is
Glories of Brian Boru’
now stored in Kilrea,
In conclusion, the lambeg
drumming tradition in
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).
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).