One of a pair of Bridgett Lambeg drums dating back to about 1890.
The drums toured internationally with Different Drums of Ireland
for more than 20 years alongside the traditional bodhran drum.
On Social Media use
Favourites at Milwaukee’s Irish Fest for over a decade, Different Drums toured the world using these drums as a celebration of diversity and community. Whilst the drums are uniquely from the North of Ireland, their use in Different Drums originates from working with the Kodo Drummers of Japan.
Singular to the province of Ulster, each drum’s shell is 3 feet in diameter and 2 feet across; they are played with curved Malacca canes. Each drum of the pair bears a different sized image of King William crossing the Boyne on a white horse. The drums are nicknamed accordingly: “Big Horse” and “Wee Horse”.
Roy Arbuckle from Different Drums of Ireland provides his personal provenance..
I purchased these drums in 1992. They were made by William Bridgett of Belfast and were over 100 years old at the time. They are a matched pair of ‘walking drums’, a bit smaller than usual and were made for a lodge in Finnis Co Down, (near Dromore).
They were first used by me in a production of ‘Observe The Sons Of Ulster Marching To The Somme.’ in 1992. After that, they were used all over the world by Different Drums of Ireland and to the best of my knowledge were the first Lambeg drums ever to be played in Japan. They also played on Broadway New York, St Patrick’s Cathedral New York and in the White House Washington DC for President Clinton. They were part of the first 12th of July celebrations held at Aras An Uachtarain by President Mary McAleese.
Roy Arbuckle 2015
The Lambeg is a drum that is not without controversy or the ability to evoke strong sentiment. There are many negative myths and associations and people often reject it outright. We don’t often hear however that the drum was originally played by both main Northern traditions. Hibernian and Orange would often borrow each other’s drums and drummers for parades, wrapping the drum with a colored fabric to cover decorations on the shell.
The separation of the two percussion instruments, Lambeg and Bodhran, to align almost exclusively with Unionist and Nationalist designations, is misunderstood as historic but is, in fact, a relatively modern 20th Century phenomenon. Knowing the instruments’ shared history, the ethos of Different Drums was to provide an opportunity for celebration of diversity and a sharing of ownership.
Trinity Irish Dance Company and Different Drums have a long shared history. After meeting Different Drums through Milwaukee’s Irish Fest, TIDC Artistic Director Mark Howard created a piece called “Out of the Woods” set to their music. After “Out of the Woods” received critical acclaim at its New York Joyce Theater premier, Howard asked Different Drums to accompany TIDC on its 2005 United States Tour. Several new works would emerge from that tour. “Black Rose” became an instant classic in part due to the theatrical use of Big Horse on stage.
As current percussionist with TIDC, Paul Marshall from Different Drums continues that legacy by bringing the 125-year-old Lambeg ‘Big Horse’ to deliver unforgettable impact in the Company’s current performances of “Black Rose”. The drum will be entrusted to TIDC indefinitely. In 2016 TIDC will feature the drum in shows throughout Japan and the United States, including Trinity’s homecoming performance at Milwaukee Irish Fest the evening of August 20.
Beyond the performance experience however, TIDC and Paul are eager for the drum to be seen and experienced by a wider audience and displayed within a relevant cultural context. Beginning March 13, 2016, when “Big Horse” is not touring with Trinity, the drum will share time on display between the Irish American Heritage Center museum 4626 N. Knox Ave, Chicago,Il 60630 and the Ward Irish Music Archives at Irish Fest Center, 1532 Wauwatosa Ave. Milwaukee, WI 53213.
Where can I see Big Horse?
When Big Horse is not on tour, it will be on shared display at the Irish American Heritage Center Chicago and at the Ward Music Archives, Milwaukee.