3 Orange Drums

Heaney paints a caricature in words of a figure prominent in a Protestant Unionist parade. The poet’s distaste for the tone and tenor of the event and for what its emblematic drummer stands for is immediately obvious.

The lambeg drummer at the resembles an overpowering fusion, his size and mass doubled by the bulk and weight of his drum and evident in the lexis of obesity (balloonsbelly weighs buckles). The sound he produces is part of the whole (lodging thunder), a bullying unsavoury emanation (grossly) from his groin area. He cuts a paradoxical figure – what boosts his psychology (raised up) is more than his physical frame can cope with (buckles under).

As if each arm has a ‘prosthetic’ stick (extended) grafted on – seasoned rod in the sense of long-time use at specific times of the ‘marching’ year – the image he cuts provides the context for all his swagger, swank and showmanship (he parades behind it).

And, whilst the approving bystanders (nodding crowd) give way to the physical momentum and din of the procession, the ballooning drums prevail (the drums preside) like other ugly signs of sickness (giant tumours).

The lambeg wielder is walloping out his message to a totally supportive audience (every cocked ear) that cannot get enough (expert in its greed) of its unremitting message (battered signature) of anti-Catholic feeling (subscribes ‘No Pope’).  

There is no length to which the drummer will not go, sweat and if necessary plastered blood, to maintain his thundering ostinato (air … pounding like a stethoscope).

  • lambeg: huge drum used traditionally in Northern Ireland by Protestant Unionists as part of their Orange Order street parades held particularly on and around 12 July each year (‘The Twelth’); acknowledged to be one of the loudest acoustic instruments in the world. The marches came to symbolize and reinforce sectarian division and generated disorder and violence. They remain even beyond the Good Friday Agreement at the root of deeply held sectarian feelings and potential protest;
  • balloon: swell, bulge;
  • belly: stomach area;
  • haunches: buttocks, hindquarters;
  • lodge: consign, embed;
  • gross: unsavoury, vulgar, tasteless;
  • raise up : elevate physically and psychologically;
  • buckle: give way physically, become misshapen;
  • seasoned rod: well used, of mature wood; thin straight drum stick;
  • parade: march with a swagger through a public place;
  • nodding: showing approval with movements of the head;
  • preside: express dominance over;
  • tumour: derived from L. word for a ‘swelling’ the term has become associated with cancerous growths some of them disfiguring the body;
  • cock an ear: listen intently;
  • battered: both ‘pounded out’ and ‘showing signs of wear’
  • signature: sound message: ‘signature tune’ is a musical introduction automatically associated with person or programme, here the Unionist anti-Catholic community;
  • goatskin: traditional source of the hide-vellum covering the drum head;
  • stethoscope: a sensitive medical instrument that magnifies sound of the heart-beat;
  • 3 quatrains with an abab/ cdcd rhyme scheme; lines based on 10 syllables;
  • 6 sentence structure; limited use of enjambed lines;
  • bilabial plosive [b] is ideal for describing the bullying dominance of drumbeat, accompanied in 1 by nasal [n]; (2 uses alveolar plosive [d] more xtensively); (3) weaves the [p] of Pope into the narrative;
  • the poster representation of a bent-backed men coping with the size of their drum is deftly managed: weighs/ Him back on his haunches … like giant tumours.
  • the vocabulary is deliberately chosen to convey the caricature, swank and hyperbole of the moment;


  • Heaney is a meticulous craftsman using combinations of vowel and consonant to form a poem that is something to be listened to.
  • the music of the poem: fourteen assonant strands are woven into the text; Heaney places them grouped within specific areas to create internal rhymes , or reprises them at intervals or threads them through the text;
  • syllables without highlight are largely the unstressed sound as in common, little [ə]

  • alliterative effects allow pulses or beats, soothings or hissings or frictions of consonant sound to modify the assonant melodies; this is sonic engineering of the first order;
  • a full breakdown of consonant sounds and where in the mouth they are formed is to be found in the Afterthoughts section;

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