Belfast Telegraph

Special new drum from Lambeg maker whose unique skills were passed down through the family

James Hamilton with a special commemorative Lambeg drum in his Carrickfergus workshop
James Hamilton with a special commemorative Lambeg drum in his Carrickfergus workshop
James Hamilton working on a drum
A child’s handmade Lambeg drum
James Hamilton’s son Glen gives him a hand with the new drum
Claire McNeilly

By Claire McNeilly

A Co Antrim Lambeg expert is beating the drum - literally - for what he believes is a dying craft.

James Hamilton, from Carrickfergus, had little time to kick back and relax ahead of the biggest day in the marching calendar.

The 53-year-old father-of-three only recently put the finishes touches to a special Lambeg drum that is due to make its debut appearance during today's Twelfth parade in Larne.

A full-time council worker, he told how he acquired this special skill after the traditional method of drum-making was passed down through three generations of his family - from grandfather, to father, to son.

Now, as one of the few remaining practitioners, he has preserved and enhanced the knowledge required to make these unique instruments since his father, James Hamilton Sr, passed away in 1995, leaving him a garden workshop.

"I carried it on after my father died," Mr Hamilton told the Belfast Telegraph.

"It's like people having racing pigeons or racing motorbikes, it's the same idea - you get ready, go to the competition and win a prize or don't win a prize."

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Mr Hamilton - who is dad to Glen (35), Amy (27) and Georgia (21) - lives in what has been the family home in Carrickfergus since 1947, and is where his dad taught him all he knows.

He revealed that he and his father designed a unique machine to help make Lambeg drums back in the day.

"We've always been involved with the drums," he said.

"There were always drums in the house. They used to put you in a drum when you were a child - it was like a playpen - so you couldn't get out!"

Currently he has "four or five family drums" in his possession, one of which is "over 100 years old". He said that he plays "bits and pieces - not really an awful lot".

"It was just a hobby for my da and it's a hobby for me, although I don't have anywhere near the time he had.

"It was passed down to my father from his father Dixon Hamilton."

Mr Hamilton added: "I don't make any money at it. I often restore old drums for museums and societies that want to keep them even if they're maybe not playable any more."

What he enjoys most, he admitted, is seeing someone play one of the drums that he has fixed.

"It makes me feel proud of my da and granda," he continued.

"Some of the drums my da and me made are 70 or 80 years old and it's good to see them out on the road. I do it to keep the old things on the road, basically.

"I've made dozens and dozens of drums from scratch over the years - they come and go and come back and get fixed and people take them and break them." He added: "But I'm not sure when I go if any one my kids will want to carry on or not. It's a dying trade."

Mr Hamilton's latest project involved creating a new Lambeg drum "for a wee Somme society that I'm in".

"It'll be going to Larne on the Twelfth and I'll be there to watch it in the parade," he explained.

"It's to commemorate all the men from Carrickfergus who died at the Somme in the First World War.

"Our relation Henry McMurran - my granny's brother - was the first man from Carrick killed in the First World War. He was 27.

"So there's a memorial to him -and some of the others - on the drum."

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