Did you hear the one about The Pope, the Lambeg and the ukulele?

I’m always a wee bit wary of Twelfths that don’t happen until the Thirteenth. Especially so this year, as it’s a Twelfth with no marching. And what’s a Dara Lá Déag (Twelfth) without a bit of a march…

Edenderry will be empty, as will venues around the Province, vacant fields echoing to the sound of birds instead of brattling drums. Flutes and fifes will not be stilled, but their shrill beauty will be curtailed by Covid’s shackles.

Normally on the Twelfth, I’d be heading to my Da’s house in Hamilton Street in Lurgan; opening the window to listen out for the first hint of an approaching side-drum. Then I’d be rushing up to Queen Street, with my camera, to get them walking under the magnificent arch.

I’d be looking out for the banner fluttering at just the right angle in the breeze; the still-tipsy fluter who hasn’t worked out that he’s verging on the mother of all hangovers; the hipster Orangeman whose moustache-cream budget is probably more expensive than his “walking” dues.

But most of all I’d be listening to the music. Those eternal classics that resonate with a youth spent playing and listening to the tunes you didn’t hear on Top of the Pops. The Sash, The Orange Lily-O, Derry’s Walls, No Surrender…

Fantastic tunes altogether, and a part of our shared musical heritage. For, like it or not, our best tunes belong to everyone. Even the iconic Sash My Father Wore uses the same air as My Irish Molly-O:

She is young and she is beautiful, And her likes I’ve never known,

She’s the lily of old Ireland, And the primrose of Tyrone…”

And what about The Orange Maid of Sligo? The same tune’s used in Avondale, a eulogy to the prominent Home Ruler Charles Stewart Parnell.

Alas, somewhere along the way things got nasty and more recent offerings from both traditions reflect none of the earlier harmony. Old favourites – and some newer ones – have been repackaged to serve a political purpose.

The Famine Song, a ghastly Loyalist corruption of The Sloop John B, and My Little Armalite, an odious Republican ballad based on Home Boys Home, are exemplars of this race to the musical bottom.

The Oul Orange Flute is my gold standard for “party” songs. It’d put the humours on you whatever your background. There’s nothing nasty about the tale of Bob Williamson, whose flute couldn’t bring itself to play “Papish” music when he “turned”.

So I decided to raise the bar and take us back to a time when a “party” song could be tuneful, funny and, heaven forbid, cross-community! I don’t think anyone could find anything objectionable about My Wee Lambeg Drum.

It’s the tale of a young fella from Lurgan who takes up the Lámh Bheag (Lambeg: it can be translated from Irish aslittle hand”) and dreams of playing for The Pope in Rome. Even the Northern Ireland Community Relations Council could not find such a premise unpalatable.

The tune is mine, the lyrics are mine and any flaws in the performance are mine!

This, I can say with certainty, is the first time that Lambeg and ukulele have featured in the same tune and I’m indebted to Lurgan drummer Colin McCusker for taking the time to accompany me on the song. Every Lambeg has a name and on this occasion he’s playing the Boconnell Drum.

So here are a few verses from “My Wee Lambeg Drum. The song is quite long and I’m deliberately not inviting “curiosity clicks”, but if you want to hear it in fulland find out if our young percussion prodigy realises his dream of an audience with the Popeyou can Google it or visit my YouTube channel here: nojigs

Whatever your politics, have a happy Twelfth. Or Thirteenth.

And, as we say in Ulster-Scots, Rí Liam Abú”!

Twelfth – Tandragee 2008” by GreyHobbit is licensed under CC BY-SA

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