“Big Horse” – Lambeg Drum c1890

“Big Horse” is one of a pair of William Bridget Lambeg drums dating back to about 1890. The drums were used alongside the bodhran for more than 20 years by Different Drums of Ireland.  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”.

Performance Images: Photocredit Kat Werchouski

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 coloured 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 StatesTour. Several new works would emerge from that tour.  “Black Rose” became an instant classic in part due to the use of Big Horse. 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 be on display within the Ward Irish Music Archives at Irish Fest Center, 1532 Wauwatosa Ave. Milwaukee, WI 53213.