The master raises the drum to his chest on Folly Lane.
Resplendent with Lily, Sweet William too.
The band called to order, his domain.
He calls the tune. Killaloe, after two – one, two.
Its Twelfth morning and in this poem I reflect on years gone by.
Twenty years or more ago I used to line up with the drum corps of Lisnadill Flute Band each Twelfth of July morning on Folly Lane in the south of Armagh prior to setting off to join the rest of the lodges from that district. My two brothers and I formed half of the corp in front and to the side of the bass drum of the Band Master. My fourth brother played out high notes on piccolo at the back.
As the youngest and smallest my uniform was a mishmash of hand-me-downs and ill fitting items. Country bands didn’t have the money for new uniforms so ours was a second hand lot from God knows where. My cap had crowned perhaps a dozen heads in its lifetime. It stayed on my head through the grace of soggy rolled up newspaper inside the head band soaked with sweat. My white Andante snare drum hung round my neck like a millstone.
The band took its name from a small rural townland three miles further south from Armagh. It was what is known as a melody flute band. Its numbers would be swollen to over twenty on the twelfth, still a small unit compared to the blood and thunder bands. Hymns and tunes such as Our Director, Killaloe, Liberty Bell and Dolly’s Brae made up its repertoire.
We would have paraded Armagh in the morning, making our way through the town to the Co-Op at Alexander where buses would collect us and take us to the host town to join the main demonstration in places like Newtownhamilton, Tandragee and Killylea.
For us it was a grand day out. We’d march to the field, head off to meet friends and grab a burger before returning to where the drums and lodge banner had been stashed beside the lodge car. There we’d join older band members and sit on the grass with rolled up shirt sleaves in the sun drinking a can or two of warm Bass or Tennents, smoking Embassy Red, and chatting about women and cars and the price of cattle like men. We didn’t get drunk though. A full bladder and a sore head aren’t conducive to keeping time and the long walk home.
Those were great times before educational then economic migration scattered us to the four winds exposing some of us to different cultures and traditions.