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Welcome to Drum - the only Protestant village in Republic of Ireland

Steeped in Orangeism, Drum is a true rarity in the South - but its good cross-community relations are at its beating heart, reports Ivan Little

Published 20/07/2016

Drum Accordion Band members, turned out smartly in their uniforms, lead the procession of local Orange lodges
Drum Accordion Band members, turned out smartly in their uniforms, lead the procession of local Orange lodges
Rev Larry Power of Coragarry Free Presbyterian Church in Drum with his wife Elaine
Drum Accordion Band members, turned out smartly in their uniforms, lead the procession of local Orange lodges
Drum Accordion Band members, turned out smartly in their uniforms, lead the procession of local Orange lodges
Drum Accordion Band members, turned out smartly in their uniforms, lead the procession of local Orange lodges
Drum Accordion Band members, turned out smartly in their uniforms, lead the procession of local Orange lodges
Ivan Little at the entrance to village
Drum Accordion Band members, turned out smartly in their uniforms, lead the procession of local Orange lodges
A photo of Drum Accordion Band from 1959
Rachael Hall, Grace Wilson and Helen Wilson

They march to a very different beat in the village of Drum, a blink-and-you'll-miss-it sort of place that still manages to be an eye-opener in the heart of Co Monaghan. Chances are that most people have probably driven through it almost before they've realised they were in it, but Drum does leave a lasting impression - because it's the only Protestant village in the Republic of Ireland.

The other evening, an Orange parade brought what traffic there was to a standstill in Drum, which has no Catholic churches and no GAA clubs in the parish, but offers visiting Protestants no shortage of choice for places to worship - including one of the late Dr Ian Paisley's Free Presbyterian churches.

There's also a Presbyterian church that is one of the oldest on the island of Ireland, a Church of Ireland church and even a gospel hall. Not to mention two Orange lodges and an accordion band, all of which meet in the village's Protestant Hall.

And Drum, which takes its name from the surrounding drumlins, rather the musical instrument, also has a connection with the Republic's most prominent Protestant politician. Heather Humphreys TD, the Minister for Regional Development, Rural Affairs, Arts and the Gaeltacht in the Dublin government, hails from the village, and while she doesn't bang on about Drum, she's never made any secret of her Presbyterian, unionist roots.

It was her job to organise the centenary commemorations of the 1916 Easter Rising, but she revealed that her Orangeman grandfather had been one of 12,000 Monaghan men who signed the 1912 Ulster Covenant in opposition to Home Rule.

Mrs Humphreys calls herself a proud republican, however, which makes her more than a little bit out of step with the majority of the Republic's minority population who live in Drum and who still cherish the Union - even though they live just outside it.

One local man says: "Many of the people here are in the Orange Order, and there would still be that political attachment to Northern Ireland."

Not that people in Drum, the population of which under 100, are unhappy with their lot south of the border. One man says: "Protestants generally get a fairer crack of the whip down here now, though there are still problems. But few of us are planning to move north anytime soon."

Heather Humphreys has called for the story of southern Protestants - especially those along the border - to be examined more extensively than in the past.

Free Presbyterian minister the Rev Larry Power, who followed the almost obligatory hurling path in his native Kilkenny, says that relations between Protestants and Catholics around Drum are harmonious.

While they are good, they are not perfect. A road sign three kilometres from the village had the English name of Drum crudely and not particularly effectively painted over in a bid to give primacy to its Irish title, an Droim.

But the Gaelic name is nowhere to be seen on the Drum sign welcoming visitors to the village, one of the few signs in the Republic that don't feature the Irish spelling. "We're in a border area, so there's a little bit of tension," says Mr Power. "But relationships are generally very good. I couldn't ask for better neighbours than our Catholic neighbours."

Mervyn Reilly, who's the Worshipful Master of one of Drum's Orange lodges and the bandmaster of the village's accordion ensemble, as well as a former member of the Drum Development Association, concurs with the cleric's sentiment. "Drum and its environs are Protestant, but we get on well with the Catholics who live here," he says. "They go their way on a Sunday and we go ours. In the times of the Troubles, there were halls and churches burned, but we all went through that. Thankfully, we are in a better phase now."

Mr Reilly's lodge is Aughareagh LOL 1555 which, like Violet Hill LOL 571 and the Royal Black Preceptory, have about 20 members each.

"We're expecting an increase in numbers because junior lodge members are starting to move up into the senior ranks," says Mr Reilly, who has also been in the 18-strong Drum Accordion Band since it started in 1958.

A photograph on the wall of the Protestant Hall - it's not officially called an Orange Hall - shows Mervyn Reilly in the very first line-up of the band along with his father, William, his brother, William, and his sister, Helen.

His grandfather, by the way, was in the Orange Lodge. His name? William, of course. "The band are going well," says Mervyn. "We're very busy at a wide range of parades."

The band and the lodge were on parade at Rossnowlagh in Co Donegal on the Sunday before the Twelfth, and in Maguiresbrige in Fermanagh on the biggest day in the Orange marching calendar.

The post-Twelfth parade in Drum was more of a carnival than it was a march. A village picnic was how the accordion band officials described the gathering, though feast might have served as better branding.

Inside the Protestant Hall, it wasn't quite the feeding of the 5,000, but the tables were groaning under the strain of a huge selection of sandwiches and, outside, under a gazebo to fend off the rain, volunteer chefs were cooking up burgers by the dozen.

The 20 or so bands that took part in the parade came from counties Cavan, Tyrone and Fermanagh, as well as Monaghan.

But Orange favourites and hymns weren't the only airs to ring out over Monaghan, with accordion, flute and silver bands also marching through the village during showers.

A Co Antrim ceilidh band that plays Ulster Scots music also belted out its tunes across the road from the Protestant Hall, which boasts a blue plaque near its entrance to John Deyell (1775-1878), a Drum-born surveyor whose claim to fame was founding the village of Millbrook in Ontario. It was known by the more-wordy name of Cavan-Millbrook-North Monaghan until 2007.

The moniker of the Alastair Scott Ceilidh Band has a story behind it, too. The trio consists of Kenny Mitchell from Ballymoney, and Amanda Robinson and Trevor Hopper from Moneymore. Which begs the question, who and where is Alastair Scott?

"He doesn't actually exist," explains Kenny Mitchell. "We were searching for a name years ago and we were telling a Scottish man about Ulster Scots music. He misheard us and said he would love to hear Alastair Scott play, so the name just stuck."

Given that Mervyn Reilly is a man who wears many hats and not just a bowler, not a lot happens in Drum that he doesn't know about.

Not that a lot happens in Drum at the best of times, alas.

One local man says: "We're so out of the way that strangers reckon we're not even in the back of beyond. We're not on the way to anywhere."

Locals had to campaign a few years ago for a sign to direct people to Drum, which is off the main Monaghan to Cootehill road.

But the detour along the narrow L2280, which has grass growing in the middle of several sections, has its rewards in the shape of one spectacular hidden natural gem.

Drum Lough is a truly magnificent sight, and an amenity area has been developed there. A number of Mallard ducks have been added, along with fishing stands, in the hope that more tourists will find their way to the village.

And, like every other self-respecting community in the Republic, people in Drum have been trying to clean up in the Tidy Towns competition by planting flowers and establishing benches and decorations throughout the village.

Larry Power has been a Free Presbyterian minister for nearly 30 years. He first encountered the church on a visit to England with his wife, who is from Merseyside. He has been at the Coragarry church for nine years, after two decades in Kesh, Co Fermanagh.

The church dates back to the 1970s, when services were held in the Protestant Hall, before a dedicated building was opened by Dr Paisley.

There are around 80 people in the congregation, with worshippers travelling from Cavan, Fermanagh and Monaghan town to join local people in the pews. An extension to the church hall is due to open in October. And that's somewhat unusual for Drum, for they're more used to seeing places closing than opening there.

The only shop in village - Stewart's - shut down a few years ago, and new tenants who moved in a year later couldn't make a go of it either.

The shop has the look of the Marie Celeste about it, with mugs, notebooks, pens, pots of paint, a kettle, bulbs and pick-axe handles still on display in the two windows.

An estate agent's advertisement says it can be rented for €70 a week, but there's been no rush of takers, and it looks like the Drummers, as they call themselves, will have to keep on doing the 15-minute drive to Cootehill for their shopping.

The one and only pub in Drum has also called last orders. Anderson's wasn't exactly a pub with no beer, but it dispensed little in the way of hospitality in its heyday - if you could call it a heyday.

Bertie Anderson used to open up for only two hours on a Saturday night in order to maintain his licence, but the 'for sale' sign now hangs outside the former coaching inn, which is a listed building.

"The bar was long before my time," says Mr Power, who, despite his surname, with its hint of Irish whiskey, would probably have had no cause to use its rather rudimentary facilities anyway.

However, the distinct lack of commerce in Drum doesn't mean there are no enterprising entrepreneurs in the village.

The parading bandsmen - and women - marched past a David Brown Selectamatic tractor, which had a sign attached saying it was on the market.

It has to be said that the tractor looked as if it had seen better days, but in Drum they're hoping to plough a whole new furrow for their tiny community in better years to come.

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