The bodhrán is an Irish frame drum, with a skin (often goatskin) stretched across one face of a shallow wooden cylinder, the other face is open, allowing the player to use a hand to control pitch and timbre. There may also be one or two bracing bars inside the frame of the drum.
Bodhráin, (or bodhráns), are relatively new instruments, even though frame drums have been used in Ireland for centuries, and the name itself is also quite new, although an Irish translation of John of Gaddesden’s medical treatise Rosa Angelica (c.1314) mentions ‘re bhualadh mar thimpan no mar bhodhrán…’ (on being struck, like a timpan or like a bodhrán…), in an entry on tympanitis. Some people have tried to link the word to various Celtic words for ‘deaf’; Gaelic – bodhar, Manx – bouyr (the silent Gaelic 'd' is not written in Manx orthography), Cornish – bodhar or bothar, Welsh – byddar, and by extension to deafening sounds, stunning, tumult or (in English) bother, with the Irish being bodhradh. Earlier Gaelic dictionaries give druma or tiompan as the words for drums – druma with the same root as drum, tiompan cognate with tabor, tambourine and tympani.
The bodhrán is held vertically on the thigh (interestingly, bòdhan is Gaelic for ham or thigh), and struck by, sometimes, the open fingers and thumb, or, much more usually, a beater – known also as a tipper or cipin.
|A variety of tippers|
The supporting hand is placed inside the bodhrán, and the finger(s) are used to alter the timbre of the skin’s sound. There are two main kinds of playing; the Kerry style, which uses both ends of the tipper, and the West Limerick style, which uses only one end of a slightly longer tipper. Over the years players have introduced other effects, using brushes or playing off the rim.
I bought this small bodhrán in Clonmel, at the 2003 Fleadh Cheoil there. It’s a nice sound but it’s more of a souvenir than a proper instrument.
|Very Charles Rennie MacIntosh|
The larger bodhrán has a much richer sound and also has a nice decorative painting on the skin, making it a pleasant item just to look at.
|Being decorations, not instruments.|