An historic Lambeg drum taken by Hibernians under the cover of darkness across the rural Tyrone countryside a century ago before being hidden during the Troubles is finally making its re-appearance on St Patrick’s Day.
The distinctive sound of the Owen Roe O’Neill drum can be heard for miles and its artistic paintwork and fabric remains intact as testament to the craftmanship of those who made it 130 years ago.
But spare a thought for Donal Muldoon, treasurer of the Brantry Branch of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. He will be required to carry the huge drum at their regional parade in Rasharkin on the national festival. Suffice to say he’ll need a hand.
At a special meeting of the Tyrone County Board of the AOH recently, permission was given for the famous Lambeg Drum to be put on display at the parade.
Named in honour of Owen Roe O’Neill, the victor at the Battle of Benburb in 1646, its re-appearance now is seen as symbolic by the organisation’s President in the Red Hand county, Gerry McGeough.
“This drum was brought into the Brantry from Ardboe by three Hibernians. They included a man called Harry Hamill who by all accounts was a very striking and formidable person. It was brought in under the cover of darkness, presumably across fields and through what would now be termed as Loyalist areas,” he said.
“It’s definitely an iconic drum and arrived here in the Brantry area at a time in the 19th century when the Hibernians were an emerging organisation and in a state of considerable growth. But it hasn’t been used publicly now for about 100 years.
“One of the reasons for this is that in the decades after partition and during the Troubles there was a heavy military and British army presence locally. Many old houses were destroyed, along with scores of historic Hibernian artefacts like banners and Lambeg drums.
“A lot of the material that remained had to be hidden, including the Owen Roe O’Neill drum. A brother drum called the ‘Robert Emmett’ is also in existence.
“Fortunately, these items were preserved and saved and are now being brought out again. Their re-appearance is in my view symbolic of the resurgence of the AOH movement at the moment.”
That growth will ensure a high representation of Tyrone AOH Divisions in Rasharkin on Friday. Among them will be the Molly Maguires from Greencastle, the Brantry branch, the St Joseph’s Pro-Life Division, Dungannon, and the newly formed Craobh na nGael Irish-speaking division.
Appropriately, they will be led by the Tullach Og branch.
According to historians, the Lambeg is not strictly speaking a drum in the musical sense. In the past, they were used to communicate coded messages between military commanders across the din of a battlefield. They also fulfilled the role of striking fear into the hearts of the enemy while boosting the morale of their own forces.
The task of trying to create that kind of ‘battlefield atmosphere’ will go to Donal Muldoon, treasurer of the Brantry AOH branch.
“It’s good that the drum is going to be leading the Tullach Og Division which comprises members of the O’Neill clan. I’ll be sounding a ‘war beat’ with the O’Neill pikemen marching along with us and the whole scene should be quite a spectacle.
“This is the first time that it will be on display at a St Patrick’s Day parade. Another significant link is the fact that Brantry is a short distance from where Owen Roe O’Neill was victorious at the Battle of Benburb,” he said.
“I’ve played it a few times already, but this is going to be a full parade on a route of nearly three miles and there’ll be a second person to help me. We’ll be sounding a ‘war beat’ with the O’Neill pikemen marching along with us.
“I’m really looking forward to carrying and beating it. We’ll be getting the drum tuned this week prior to the parade and hope in time to have it completely refurbished. But we’re really just apprentices compared to the men who really knew how to play this drum a century and longer ago.”
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