Cold Case Bodh-rán – shaking a stick at the origin myths of the Irish drum (Clare)

In the nineteen sixties the bodhrán was loftily looked down noses at in the early Irish music scene and became the butt of the very first Traditional music jokes. But by now it has well passed out the pipes and has taken over from the harp as a popular visual representation of Irish music, if not Irishness itself internationally.

How has such a preposterous thing happened? The ingenuity of Ó Riada was undoubtedly the trigger, and the spirit of the sixties did the rest once the percussion genie was let out of the bottle. But what is the history of the bodhrán? What we know so far is driven by myth and wishful thinking.

Now, for the first time, in this lecture Fintan Vallely puts the Irish drum itself in the witness box and lays out the real and imagined evidence for the drum’s antecedents. The interim conclusions of this work in progress are that the famous Irish drum has no ancient artistic past: at the best it was only ever just a tambourine. The Irish device, from which the word ‘bodhrán’ comes, most likely originally meant an agricultural and domestic tray or container – even a sieve. Indeed, the history of the bodhrán that we have so far is riddled with holes.

Yet the bodhrán IS around, and being brilliantly played, as solid an art and presence as the harp or the pipes. We borrowed the device from black and white minstrels or the Salvation Army, the rhythms from dancers’ feet, and we synthesised the modern playing style from the sounds of Ulster Lambeggers, Indian tabla tippers and Scottish pipe-band snare drummers.

If the speaker can locate a bodhrán player brave enough to enter the Community Hall there will be music. Appropriate songs may be sung …