Bodhran

Purchased in Dublin, Ireland, April 1964

The bodhran (pronounced Bow-Rawn) is a traditional Irish drum with a goat hide stretched over a circular shallow frame, played with a 2-handed beater. Used in up tempo dance pieces, it sets a steady fast beat, with accents and timbral changes interwoven. This 18” drum is made by the Malachy Kearns Industry Group. It is better known as Malahchy Bodhran amongst folk musicians. It is the most well-known bodhran factory and the one used by many professional musicians both in Ireland and abroad. Bodhrans come in various sizes – from 15” to 20” but the standard size is 18”. It falls into the category of a “Frame Drum”, made from a circlet of wood that is 2” to 6” and made of ash, beech or similar pliable wood. The rim is usually made of thin strips of wood, layered and glued together, although there are some made of solid frames. The goatskin is treated by a traditional process. It has a unique stretching property. The Irish word “Bodhar” means deaf or haunting. The bodhran began as a skin tray used for drawing turf (peat) on the bogs. It stirs the spirit when played with the “tipper” or beater hitting the skin in a racing style while a hand presses the back of the skin to vary the tone. The skins are treated in hydrated lime mixed with ingredients that are the closely guarded secret of every bodhran maker. They are soaked for 7-10 days in a solution of lime sulfide which softens the skin, de-hairs it and dissolves the fatty tissue. Sometimes the skin is buried in manure. It is finally stretched under tension onto a Birch frame. It is also glued on. The skins can be sheep, deer, calf, goat, greyhound, or a horse, but goatskin is the favorite. In the hands of a skilled player the bodhran can be a subtle and exciting instrument—striking the skin in a variety of ways, one hand tucked in behind the skin, pressing and moving to vary the colour and intensity of the sound. The side of the beater is also used to good effect on the wooden rim. It is used mainly in religious and cultural festivals. The bodhran may have a cross piece inserted (in the back). This can be one or two bars, which serve the dual purpose of easy handling and an aid to tension. The crosspiece or bars can be made of wire, metal or wood. This one is made of wood. There are various types of “tippers” or beaters. It is essential that the player find a “tipper” that suits, as there is nothing worse than a stick that is too long, too short, too heavy or too light, or one that has the “gift of flight” in mid tune. Always have two or three sticks. Drum acquired in Dublin, Ireland—along with the Celtic Harp—during Easter in April 1964.

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