Newtownards District LOL no. 4

The governing body of 12 Orange lodges in Newtownards, County Down

The lambeg tradition

by David Cargo

The Twelfth of July demonstration held in Newtownards in 2002 was a very successful day and the thousands who paraded or who watched the parade enjoyed the carnival atmosphere that developed on that occasion.

There were over fifty Lodges from the North Down area, including women’s lodges and junior lodges, the majority of which were accompanied by flute or pipe or accordion bands.

On that occasion there was only one lodge that carried on the old tradition of the lodge being led by the Lambeg drums. That lodge was the Rising Sons of William LOL 240 who have been led by the drums since their inception in 1848. The tradition of the Lambeg drums leading lodges on parades has slowly diminished in the last fifty years. At one time drums would have accompanied seven of the fourteen lodges in Newtownards District LOL No. 4.

Had it not been for the fact that certain individuals and families in the town passed on the skill of drumming to others and also encouraged the attendance at ‘drumming matches’ which are held each weekend throughout the summer months, the skill could have been lost.

The skill of drumming is universal and indeed the drum is the oldest musical instrument known to man. Every region of the world has its own development of the drum and their own particular style of drumming. The Lambeg drum is unique to Ulster; it is not to be found in any other part of Ireland or the British Isles, unless an Ulsterman has introduced it there.

The drum measures between 2 feet 11 inches and 3 feet 1 inch in diameter and is approximately 27 or 28 inches wide. The shell of the drum is usually made from one oak board (if broad enough) or two boards joined side by side. A three inch strip of softwood known as the ‘mouth hoops’ strengthens each edge of the shell on the inside.

The heads of the drum are normally made from goatskin that has been lapped on to wooden hoops, the inside of which are the same diameter as the outside of the shell. These are known as the ‘flesh hoops’.

About fifty feet of rope is needed to go around the drum in order to pull and to stretch the hide. To achieve the required tension the rope is progressively pulled through the bracing hoops which in turn stretches and tightens the hides. The object is to gain the sharpest sound without losing the ringing tone when the drum is beaten with canes. It is possible to over-tighten the hides; the result is either to lose the ringing tone or to burst the hide.

The drum is beaten on both sides simultaneously with malacca canes. The rhythms that are usually drummed are hornpipes or jigs and in the past a fifer played the tune. It is now even more difficult to find a person with the skill to play the fife than to find the drummers who could follow his lead.

The tunes that are most popular in the Newtownards area are The Boyne Water and The Girl I Left Behind Me or The Beggarman.

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