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The Lambeg Drum

Battle Of The Giant Drums

Clady Day, Markethill, July 29th, 2017

They were once used to terrify the enemy in battle and it’s not hard to see why they were so successful. The largest and loudest folk instrument in the world, the Lambeg drum can create a deafening sound, not to mention a most intimidating spectacle. At 120 decibels or so we’re talking a similar level to a light aircraft or pneumatic engine!

But on Clady Day, on the last Saturday of July, at the village of Markethill in Co Armagh, the focus is not on sound levels but the expertise of Northern Ireland’s finest drummers and the dazzling rhythms they can produce, pounding out the same beat on both sides of the vast, brightly coloured drums.

Imagine not one drummer but a series of men, vast drums strapped to their shoulders, drum skins drawn taut to heighten the pitch, occasionally so much so they burst, walking down the main street of Markethill in Co Armagh. Occasionally they face off in competition, their combined beating filling the air, before marching off through the crowds, still pounding away.

It’s the world’s largest Lambeg drum festival and for colour, excitement and spectacle it’s hard to beat!

 

Lambeg Drum

No one can say for sure where the Lambeg drum originated or precisely when it arrived in Ireland but it has certainly assumed a local flavour over the years. It was here that people started to play the drums vertically, carried before them, so the skins on both sides could be struck at the same time. Its size has changed dramatically too over the years.

Today, the Lambeg drum, which is made from stretched goatskin and hard wood timber, can reach sizes of 80 centimetres in diameter and over 60 centimetres in width. And there are signs that they could be getting even bigger in the future as drum makers continually look to set new world records.

Some say the Lambeg drum was brought by the soldiers of King William III in 1689, when they arrived in Ireland to take on the army of King James II. Possibly based on a smaller European drum, it would have sat on either side of a horse. Interestingly, it would have been used by both sides in the vital Battle of the Boyne in 1690, when the destiny of Ireland was decided.

 

Although now most famous as part of Orange Order parades, Lambeg drums were also long part of the Catholic tradition and it was not uncommon for drums to be shared between the two communities on August 15th and July 12th.

Nor is there much difference in the rhythms beaten on the bodhran, that staple of Irish traditional music, or, for that matter, those tapped out by Irish dancers.

Although not as popular throughout Northern Ireland as they once were, the Armagh area, where drummers beat out their own distinctive rhythms, remains a heartland for the Lambeg drum, which are known as batteries here.

Clady Day goes back to the 19th century when people began to gather at a field at Clady Milltown to play the Lambeg drum, later moving to Markethill. Today the festival attracts visitors from near and far to events in the afternoon and evening. But, if the Lambeg drum captures your imagination and you can’t make it don’t worry, there’s plenty of events throughout the year in the Armagh area to enjoy and you can even learn to play yourself!

For information on the Clady Day Festival at Markethill you can call or email Kyle Dowey, Chair of the Ulster Drumming Association.

Tel: 075880 50487 | Email: kyledowey@live.co.uk

Lambeg Drum

No one can say for sure where the Lambeg drum originated or precisely when it arrived in Ireland but it has certainly assumed a local flavour over the years.