Mummers and Drummers – Two folk traditions come together for first time at museum

The unmistakable rattle of the Lambeg drum & pageantry of Irish mummers’ plays come together for their first public demonstration at the Ulster Folk Museum

The first-ever Mummers and Drummers event takes place at the museum in Cultra this Friday, July 19.

Armagh Rhymers, one of the most celebrated traditional music and theatre ensembles on the island of Ireland, will join Lambeg drummers to marry the two traditions.

Throughout the day, the renowned mummers will stage a series of costumed performances featuring music, song and dance. The performances capture the spirit of ancient Irish house visits, where the kitchen became the theatre, and the history of the Wrenboys, an annual tradition celebrated on St. Stephen's Day (December 26) and once common sight throughout Ireland.

It will be a welcomed return for the Armagh Rhymers who will perform at the Ulster Folk Museum for the first time in over two decades.

Visitors to the museum’s Hand & Pen Orange Hall, an original hall from County Monaghan which was rebuilt in Cultra in 1995, will hear the thunderous rattle of the Lambeg drum as played by demonstrator Willie Hill and other skilled drummers and learn more about its history and prominence within Orange culture.

In the afternoon, the two traditions, mummers and drummers, led by two fife players, will come together for a procession through the rural township of Ballycultra as the Armagh Rhymers showcase the music and storytelling of mummers’ plays as accompanied by the Lambeg drum.

Encouraged to join the procession, visitors will also have the opportunity to try their hand at playing some of the instruments, which also include bodhráns and uilleann pipes.

Donal McAnallen, Community Engagement Officer at National Museums NI, said the event is a celebration of shared heritage.

“Throughout July and August at the Ulster Folk Museum we have programmed a number of events that explore our shared heritage through traditional music, song and dance.

“We’re delighted to bring together these two traditions, mummers and drummers, for the very first time in the beautiful surroundings of the Ulster Folk Museum – and to give our visitors the opportunity to explore our shared heritage.”

He added: “We’ll also have the team behind the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project on site where they will be playing newly recovered recordings from the National Museums NI sound archive that shed light on the history of these two folk traditions.”

Among the recordings are demonstrations and discussions with drummers in the 1980s talking about the strength and skill required to play the Lambeg drum, and interviews with mumming troupes and their audiences discussing costumes, rhymes and the importance of keeping the tradition alive.