Another Royal encounter with Lambeg drums in days of yore

With Her Majesty the Queen’s 95th birthday coming so soon after the death of her beloved husband Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, there’ll be none of the traditional public celebrations today.

Wednesday, 21st April 2021, 6:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 21st April 2021, 2:45 pm

But along with Saturday’s profoundly sad and poignant funeral in St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle, marking Prince Phillip’s remarkable life and legacy, a host of Royal reminiscences have been recalled by historians and commentators, and by members of the public in the UK and around the world.

Aside from numerous renditions of Prince Phillip’s countless quips, one of the jolliest recollections and poignant re-enactments locally was of the part played, rather loudly, by Lambeg drums when the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh visited Hillsborough Castle in 1953. And it wasn’t the first time that royalty and Lambeg drums rubbed shoulders in Hillsborough.

Almost eight years ago some wonderful reminiscences of Hillsborough from days of yore were shared on this page, courtesy of the late Mayne Harshaw and recorded in his book ‘Childhood Memories of the Early 1930s’.

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The young Mayne Harshaw recalled royalty visiting Hillsborough

One of the most colourful of the author’s youthful recollections was of a royal visitor whose arrival in the town “exceeded all expectations for sheer excitement” - and Lambeg drums were involved.

The Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII and then Duke of Windsor after his abdication “received a rousing welcome from huge crowds packed along the village streets,” Mayne recounted.

There isn’t a reference to any particular date in the book, except that Prince Edward’s visit was in the early 1930s.

Probably it was in 1932, when the Prince of Wales opened Stormont Parliament Buildings on 16 November.

An official portrait of Prince Edward in naval uniform, 1920

Mayne’s memories of Prince Edward totally eclipsed any recollections of his “earliest experience of a Royal visitor” to Hillsborough.

Princess Mary “came one winter evening”, Harshaw reminisced, describing her visit as “to say the least, disappointing.”

Again, no specific date, but according to Roamer’s (hopefully reliable!) research, Princess Mary visited Northern Ireland in both 1924 and 1928.

“I was among a privileged group of children waving flags on the steps of the Market House facing Hillsborough Castle,” Mayne recalled.

The author explained his disappointment:“The royal cavalcade swept into the Castle ignoring us and the Guard of Honour.

“Apparently the Royal Lady was so terrified to be in such a barbaric country that she could not wait to reach the safety of the Castle. I was somewhat compensated when mother took me to the monument field and for the first time I saw fireworks shooting out of a huge bonfire lit for the occasion.”

Over a decade later, another royal visitor arrived one afternoon to “a rousing welcome from huge crowds packed along the village streets.”

It was the Prince of Wales, in Northern Ireland to open Stormont.

Young Mayne, probably aware of Prince Edward’s colourful lifestyle, thought that “he must have been a bit of a handful for the old Duke and Duchess of Abercorn for after tea he demanded to be taken to a squash court, or might it have been racquets?”

After being “duly spirited away in a little sports car” the Prince of Wales returned later that night when “the village was still thronged with people and the sound of drums was deafening.”

At first the young Mayne thought that “a fight had developed around two drums but then I heard them shouting, ‘Put her on Prince!! Put her on Prince!!’”

Prince Edward had come out of Hillsborough Castle onto the street to “observe at close quarters this phenomena of Lambeg drums but somehow in the darkness he had been recognised and there was bedlam on all sides.”

Mayne rushed home and excitedly announced that the Prince was coming up the hill “enthusiastically beating a Lambeg drum and barely able to support its weight!”

The police, alerted that the Prince was “out on the loose” rescued him from his fans and got him safely back into the Castle.

Not in a hurry, he granted more royal repartee atop the wall of the Castle gate!

“Meanwhile the men with the drum had been allowed into the Castle to present the drumsticks to the Prince and emerged shaking hands and slapping each other on the back,” Mayne’s memories concluded with glee - “What a night!!! The Prince, among his people, had skinned his fingers (beating the drumsticks too eagerly) endorsing their sacred symbol, and the undying loyalty of his subjects was assured for ever.”

And the Lambeg drum that Edward had thumped so enthusiastically was later brought to Armagh, and put on display in a grocery and confectionary shop.

So many people called into the shop to see it that official reinforcements were required and a police guard was put on the door.

Mayne found the next Royal visit to Hillsborough similarly exciting.

“It is difficult to portray the tremendous interest and upsurge of fervour for the Royal family which gripped the whole community in the weeks prior to the visit of King George and Queen Elizabeth after their Coronation in 1937,” he says.

Mayne recalled crowd barriers erected on both sides of the Main Street, across the Square and along the side of the Courthouse and “the village was bedecked with brand new bunting and there were flags everywhere…it was a gigantic party.”

But there was no mention of Lambeg drums!

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