Widow blasts Lambeg Drum order as 'attack on family culture'
A widowed mother of six has slammed her council for "attacking" her family's culture after the local authority threatened court action to drown out the sound of Lambeg drums.
Kelley Sterritt (44) was stunned when officials from Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council hand-delivered a noise abatement notice to her Markethill home.
She said it severely restricted her children's ability to carry on a family tradition and keep the memory of their late father - a renowned drum-maker - alive.
"I strongly believe this is an attack on my culture and an attack on my family which has been playing Lambeg drums at this address for three generations," Kelley said.
"They are trying to prevent my sons from playing and it isn't right."
Richard Sterritt, who passed away in November 2016 aged 52, began teaching each of the children to play the giant drums in the garden shed "from they were no age", just as his father Ernie had done with him at the same property on Forest View.
His children - Jordan (17), Ethan (15), Luke (13), Jack (10), Charlie (7) and Hollie (4) - are proud to carry on the rich family tradition they inherited.
"Richard always said if they were playing the drums on a Saturday night they would not get into trouble," said mum Kelley.
The passion took on even more meaning when they lost their father almost two years ago.
"I couldn't believe it when the council came to my door and served this notice - before that they had placed recording equipment in a nearby house and launched an investigation," she said.
"They eventually concluded that the decibel levels were high and that action was required - but they are drums, of course the decibels are high."
The statutory notice gave Kelley seven days to ensure that she prohibits the sound of "a Lambeg drum" emanating from her detached home.
It severely restricts the "nuisance" sound by permitting the children to practice for 30 minutes between the hours of 4pm and 7pm on Thursdays and Fridays and between 10am and 2pm on Mondays and Saturdays.
It also states that drumming "shall not take place on more than two individual days" and that "no more than one" drum shall be played" at any one time, although no restrictions apply on the Twelfth or July 13.
The outraged mum has vowed to defy the order, which would be an offence under the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act (NI) 2011, and her solicitor is currently preparing action to have it overturned.
"I told them so on my doorstep," she said. "I just said, 'I'm sorry, but there's no way we are going to be able to follow these restrictions'.
"The kids are at school until late in the evening and then have homeworks and dinner to worry about - the drums take a couple of hours to set-up and tune so it's just not possible to stick to these times'."
Ms Sterritt said the Saturday time slot is no good either.
"The three eldest have competitions on Saturday nights so they need to start getting ready in the afternoon, not at 10am," she said.
"It takes two hours to prepare the shells, hoop basins, skins and ropes.
"Then they need be tuned and the kids need to practise.
"Where else are they meant to do it?"
Their late father - who promoted the history of the Lambeg within the Catholic tradition - hoped that the noisy acoustics would keep his family on the straight and narrow.
But if the row rumbles on Kelley could end up facing High Court action.
UUP councillor Jim Speers expressed disgust at the local authority, which served the notice on the same day that the annual West Armagh Community Festival held a ladies Gaelic football tournament named after the late IRA member Mairead Farrell in a council-owned playing field.
"In the same week we have the glorification of terrorists taking place on council property the council is writing to a widow with six young children demanding the family abides by these restrictions," he said.
"It is completely wrong and I have already been making representations to the environmental services department.
"I will not let this rest until the matter is resolved and if it means going to court with Mrs Sterritt then that is what I will do."
Farrell was one of three IRA members shot dead two days before they planned to bomb a parade of the Royal Anglican Regiment in Gibraltar in March 1988.
Mr Speers said it is disturbing that the "attack on Markethill's thriving drumming culture" comes so soon after Richard's death.
"Richard did so much to preserve and promote this tradition and it is disgusting to see it come under attack like this," he continued.
A close neighbour, who has known the Sterritt family his whole life, told the Ulster Gazette that they were also shocked by the heavy handed approach as the noise is never excessive.
"It is not as if the boys are playing the drums morning, noon and night," they said.
"They are played in the run-up to a competition and the Twelfth."
Last night a council spokesperson said the authority has "a statutory duty" to serve the notices for nuisance noise which can be appealed at the Magistrate's Court.