Protestant drum is still beating strong in Border village

Residents in Drum, Co Monaghan, are eager to protect their culture and traditions

Jim Mills, Mervyn Reilly, Angela Graham and Alan Madill at their Protestant Hall in Drum, Co Monaghan. Photograph: Lorraine Teevan

Jim Mills, Mervyn Reilly, Angela Graham and Alan Madill at their Protestant Hall in Drum, Co Monaghan. Photograph: Lorraine Teevan

 

To get to Drum in Co Monaghan – reckoned to be the Republic’s only totally Protestant village – you have to go off the beaten track, and then go off it again.

In rolling drumlin country, whence the village got its name, it’s near Cootehill and Newbliss and not far from the Tyrone Guthrie writers’ and artists’ centre in Annaghmakerrig.

Here in the Drum Association offices, which double as the Wee Drummers childcare centre, we are talking about Protestantism, about nuance and different shades of identity, and issues of cultural confusion.

Drum native Angela Graham has with her an old photograph of her grandfather, George Reilly, in the British army uniform of the North Irish Horse.

He fought in and came through the first World War and got home to Drum to marry and raise a family.

“One night Grandfather Reilly and his wife went to bed in 1922 and they were British citizens, and the next morning they got up and they were Irish,” says Angela.

“We have that family history and story-telling of the hardship, and the change, and how difficult it was for our people when that was implemented.”

It is that sense of duality and difference that marks out Border Protestants as a unique species on the island of Ireland.

Angela and her fellow Protestants, Jim Mills, Mervyn Reilly and Alan Madill to whom we are chatting here understand it, and feel it themselves.

Jim, Mervyn and Alan are all members of Orange Order lodges in counties Monaghan and Leitrim, while Angela is a senior figure in the Drum Accordion Band, which played at Maguiresbridge in Co Fermanagh on the Twelfth.

“Some things do strike me as strange,” says Angela.

“One moment you are standing and singing God Save the Queen with gusto. ‘Oh right, so that is what we are doing today’. And then you do something else in the wider community and you are standing with respect for the Soldier’s Song.”

They don’t sing Amhrán na bhFiann. From her Southern education at the Protestant national school in Drum and the comprehensive school in nearby Cootehill, she has a “cúpla focail” but wouldn’t know all the words to the anthem, explains Angela.

“It’d be too easy if it was straightforward,” says Jim Mills, a Presbyterian.

As a youngster he played Gaelic football, hurling and handball, and in football would support the Republic “before any other team”.

Still, when he was much younger, as he says, the “Protestants tended to stick to themselves”.

“On a Friday night there was a social for the Protestants in Protestant halls, within 10 miles of Cootehill. That’s where most Protestants went; the Catholics went to their own dances.

“There was a sort of segregation and a kind of directive from your parents not to be going anywhere else other than your own.”

But there was an inter-dependency as well. Jim, an architectural technician, speaks about back in the day of a local farmer, Victor Turner, who “came home from the Twelfth and his Catholic neighbours had his hay baled for him”.

While now living about 30 miles away in Ballyconnell, Co Cavan, Jim – as bandmaster of the Mullaghboy Accordion Band – is a regular visitor to the area.

He loves the Order but is far from uncritical. “An Orangeman in the North is different to an Orangeman in the South.

“I would be disgusted sometimes when I watch the television and see the antics of some of the Orangemen because they don’t deserve the colours that they wear for what they are doing.”

Not fully included

All four are associated with projects sponsored by the International Fund for Ireland, which is examining how Border Protestants came to terms with living in the new Irish State and how some of them feel they have not been fully included or valued.

Jim says generally there are good community relationships in the area.

He mentions how his band now fairly regularly engages in sessions with local Comhaltas groups, “which is something that wouldn’t have happened 10 years ago”.

Mervyn Reilly, a cousin of Angela Graham’s and also a grandson of George Reilly, describes himself as a “60-plus struggling farmer”, and married with a son and a daughter. He is Church of Ireland.

He too speaks about how rural people, regardless of religion, help each other out but he would not be too taken with cross- community initiatives.

“We are not into the cross-community thing that much and it has not really affected us at all. We are happy with that. That is why we are the way we are, and happy to be that way.”

A worshipful master of the Drum Orange lodge and bandmaster of the Drum Accordion Band, he describes both as the “hub” of the community.

He paraded in Maguiresbridge on the Twelfth and in Rossnowlagh, Co Donegal, the Saturday before.

Parades

The band would take part in about 20-25 parades each year, as would the band from Mullaghboy which is based about six miles out the road from Drum.

Of the Orange Order he says: “We are a Protestant organisation; it has been and will be.”

Mervyn loves Drum. Apart from his honeymoon touring the South, from which the happy couple returned a week early, he has seldom been outside the village.

“I never went on a holiday. Now, I did spend two days away – in Bundoran – but the most important part of those two days was when I got back in view of home.”

Drum has a population of about 200. It has four churches in and around Drum, the local Gospel Hall, and the Presbyterian, Church of Ireland, and Free Presbyterian churches, but no shops.

There was also a pub that opened each Saturday night for about two hours so the owner could keep the licence intact but that too is gone.

It is a village that benefits greatly from local pride and efforts to maintain its attractive appearance, but is in need of invigoration.

Angela Graham, married with three grown up children, is manager of the Clones Family Resource Centre and is also heavily involved with the Drum Development Association

She says: “Drum is very important to me. I work very hard in the village in many community initiatives.

“I care about the village, I care about the people, I don’t want the place to die, and it is in danger of dying at the moment. Everything is closed.”

Rural regeneration

All are proud of local woman Heather Humphreys, the Minister for Regional Development, Rural Affairs, the Arts and the Gaeltacht, but hope that some of her rural regeneration initiatives will include her home village.

“Having her as a Minister is a big deal for us. I think she will go even further,” says Angela.

Angela’s experience as a youngster is slightly different to the other three in the room. Her family joined Ian Paisley’s Free Presbyterian Church in Drum in 1971.

“That was difficult. That made us a bit different and different in Protestant circles was not necessarily good. When I went to the comprehensive school the girls I would have expected to have been friends with did not want anything to do with a Paisleyite, and I found that hard.

“So I made my friends among the Catholic girls. I found an acceptance there; they did not care, they thought all Protestants were the same anyway.”

Was she taken aback by Heather Humphreys, a Presbyterian and daughter of an Orangeman, describing herself as a “proud republican”?

“I thought initially it was a strange comment but I do understand where she is coming from,” says Angela.

“People in America are republicans, the French are republicans. It is actually a larger term, an inclusive term, that we can all associate with when you think about it.”

She says that in the past “a lot of our people felt alienated from the Irish government, they did not feel this was a place for us” but she believes that has changed.

“Certainly the conversations I have had with Protestants, they would not describe themselves as unionists, not now.

“I would describe myself as an Irish Protestant, and proud to be, with some Orange lining underneath.”

They all lived through the Troubles but curiously it was an issue that was seldom mentioned with Catholic schoolmates or acquaintances.

“At school nobody ever said anything to any of us about anything either in school or on the bus. There was a silence about all the issues and it was very strange,” recalls Angela.

Conflict

She says the conflict impinged on their lives on the Southern side of the Border, particularly as she had cousins in the RUC, one of whom was Alan Madill. She was always concerned for their safety.

Drum has experienced the occasional incident of anti-Protestant sectarianism. In 1999 the Free Presbyterian Church was badly damaged in an arson attack.

“We were very hurt; who would want to do that?” says Angela.

Of the quartet, Alan, in his mid-50 who is retired from the police and runs a security business, is just slightly the odd one out.

He is originally from Roslea in Co Fermanagh but a distant cousin of Angela and Mervyn. He holidayed in the area and knows Drum well.

He is a member of the Church of Ireland and of the Cullies Orange lodge, one of just two lodges in Co Leitrim, based between Killeshandra in Co Cavan and Carigallen in Co Leitrim.

He was invited to move from a Fermanagh lodge to help keep Cullies numbers up.

He has been involved with the order and the bands “from I could walk”.

He feels the order suffers an unfair press. “It is a great community organisation and does not get the credit it deserves for keeping bands together, for keeping people together, for giving the youth something to do.”

As a policeman, even in the bad times, “I have always crossed the Border”.

Living in Co Fermanagh he voted Leave in the EU referendum. He is the most sanguine of the four about the implications of Brexit.

He does not see a hard Border being imposed, and believes that while initially the British economy might suffer it would bounce back pretty quickly.

And while Brexit has prompted calls for a Border poll, Alan does not see much prospect of a united Ireland.

He believes most Northern Ireland Catholics would vote against unity because “they know they are far better off” in the UK.

Jim Mills has read that unity would cost the Republic an extra £13 billion each year and “there is no way Ireland could sustain that kind of cost”.

“I reluctantly would say that possibly there will be a united Ireland somewhere down the line, but I’d say it is a long journey away yet.

“I can’t see it happening in my lifetime or well beyond it. Who knows whether it will be peaceful or not when that time comes. It’s hard to know what is going to happen.”

Commemorations

Jim, Angela and Alan were curious about the 1916 commemorations – Mervyn had no real interest – but more from a historical than emotional engagement.

They hadn’t been aware that so many Protestants participated in the Rising.

The centenary of the Battle of the Somme and the first World War generally is of keener personal interest for them.

Jim also had a picture along with him of his grandfather, Thomas Mills, who was also in the North Irish Horse and like Grandfather Reilly, survived the Great War. He fondly describes him as a “farmer and jokester”.

Such connections are important to the sense of identity of all four, as is their sense of Protestantism.

Jim, Mervyn, Angela and Alan have bad memories of the Catholic “Ne Temere” stipulation which dictated all children of a Protestant and Catholic married couple must be reared as Catholics.

“It was a terribly unfair rule,” says Angela.

And all would be dismayed if their children or grandchildren were to be reared as Catholics or, perhaps more specifically, not as Protestants.

“I would struggle with it to be perfectly honest,” says Angela. But she would have to live with it, she knows.

Jim adds: “Obviously you’d prefer to see them growing up in your own religion that you know but if it does happen I would not be happy about it but I would have to respect their wishes.”

This is not sectarianism, they insist. It is about protecting the “Protestant ethos” within an increasingly diversified and pluralist society, says Angela.

“It is important for Drum and for the people of Ireland as well to maintain that tapestry and diversity.

“We bring something special to the Irish Republic, and if we die out, if we cease to exist, I think the Republic will have lost something of value.”