Why Fife and Drum.

The drum march was one of the main features of military discipline and every country had its own particular rhythms, or "tunes" to give instructions in camp, movement of troops or on the battle field. Gordon of Rothiemay records in 1637-1638 how the Scottish drummers were teaching their soldiers to distinguish between the marches of England, Ireland and Scotland. During the 30 year war the Germans once used the Scots March to decieve the enemy. At Oudenarde the Allied drummers beat the French"Retraite".

The first appearance of the fife and drums we know today was in Switzerland. The Swiss won their independance in 1291 and had a reputation for bravery and military excellence. The fife, at its initial adoption, did not command universal respect. Its "ear piercing" shrillness had offended Shakespeare and he spoke of the "vile squeaking of the wry-necked fife". However, the need for long marches and camp life saw the development of fife and drum music in the 15th century with the rest of Europe noting this military musical form at the climatic Battle of Marignano (near Milan, Italy) in 1515.

The Germanic Principalities adopted this military music in the 1500's and 1600's. The French employed Swiss mercenaries in the 1600's and 1700's, who brought with them their fife and drum music and subsequently introduced it to the French Army.

Fifes and drums were being used in Ireland as early as 1590, one hundred years before the instalment of Sir Henry Inglesby as Captain of the Guard at Carrickfergus Castle.

The Voluntary: In effect, this means "get ready" (in particular, for the next order). The pikes would come to the (upright) Advance position, musketeers would Give rest to their muskets, and the next order (for example, "Company will prepare to march by Column of Divisions") would follow.

The Call: "The Assembly" - the troops stand by their colours in their ranks and files. Used in camp and for example, for reforming the regiment if disordered on the battlefield after an attack.

The March: Each nation tended to have its own set of marches, eg English, Scots, French, German. The English March is simple in form. Drummers however were famous (or in King Charles' eyes, notorious) for adding "twiddly bits" to make the tunes more challenging and lively. Charles even went so far as to try to ban these popular "flourishes", an interesting insight into his character. It is interesting to speculate that if this was achieved, Parliamentarian musicians perhaps had more fun than their Royalist counterparts, so just another reason for turning the (quite erroneous) Victorian myth of "dour Roundheads" on its head.

The Troop: This was used when the troops came close to the enemy and needed to "draw in" their order (for example, when inevitably strung out on the march, or on the final advance to contact). The pikemen would come to the Advance, all ranks close up and following the order (verbal or by sign) to "Reform the Battalia", the troops would (hopefully smoothly) move from column into line of battle.

The Battaile: In effect, the "Charge", a sometimes complex set of movements encompassing the pikemen "Charging their pikes" in a horizontal position and attacking the enemy, the musketeers firing, reloading and if necessary, "falling on" with clubbed muskets.

The Retreat: Not a disorderly retreat, but a careful retirement, supposedly in step, backwards and facing the enemy, to reform. Followed by The Halt.

Fifes and drums went on to become the tune of the American Civil War with both the British and Americans employing Fife and Drum corps.

The musicians provided music for the army on the march and Napoleon proved that music was effective in motivating an army to march long distances. Through rhythms and tunes, they also were used to signal alerts and commands for soldiers, time to get up, breakfast call, sick call, assembly, lunch, duty calls, dinner, evening retreat or revally, lights-out (curfew).


In 1690 most Jacobite armies were using the match lock musket, a more primitive weapon than the flintlock which soon replaced it. However, some Jacobite armies were using the flintlock. Most of Williams infantry were equipped with flinklocks.


Pikes were still being used in Ireland during this time however they were somewhat dying out. Well equipped units would have one pike to every six muskets, although some units had no pikes. The bayonet was just coming into use during this period and many European, including English, forces were equipped with bayonets.
The advantage of muskets over pikes were that soldier were no longer required to spend weeks of training to use pikes and swords but could pick up a musket and with several hours of training was battle ready. The standard infantry tactic was to form units into seven ranks. The first rank crouched, the second kneeling and the third standing as they fired together. The fourth, fifth and sixth ranks would then step forward and fire while the first three reloaded. The pikes stayed at the back ready to be called into action if cavalry approached.
The pikes used by Sir Henry Inglesby's men in Carrickfergus Pageant each year are an exact copy of those found in Carrickfergus Castle.


Grenadiers were troops who in addition to being equipped with a musket, were also armed with a bag of grenades. Dragoons were mounted infantry, they rode into battle on horses but dismounted to fight.
Cavalry were equipped with swords and pistols. In addition to providing scouting and reconnaissance. Cavalry were expected to cover the rear of a retreating army. They also collected intelligence on enemy movements and tried to prevent the enemy cavalry from doing the same.


Artillery had quite a short range so it was most often used to give covering fire to or break up an attack. The sound of cannon fire was also effective in striking fear into the hearts of the enemy. With poor accuracy and a slow rate of fire, artillery did not claim an extensive amounts of caualties on the battlefield.

The poor wee mite, A Drummer Boy in the height of battle.

Example of late 17th century clothing.
Uniform of Carrickfergus Town Guard (Curtesy of Carrickfergus Museum).

Musketeers with matchlocks.

Image Gallery

ad ad ad ad ad ad ad ad ad ad



Our Fifes and Drums are authentic instruments played by military musicians of the late 17th century and are supplied by 'Angus Fifes & Drums, Donaghadee' .
Learn more...