Paper to be given at the 2012 Craiceann summer school on Inniseer island, off Co. Galway.
‘Hunting for borr- án – shaking a stick at the origin myths of the Irish drum’
The paper challenges myth, imagination and wishful thinking in the currently accepted history of that unique Irish percussion, the ‘bodhrán’. It explores the perceptions of Irish drum culture, looks scientifically at the evidence of the drum’s antecedents, and questions the meaning of the word ‘bodhrán’ itself. The interim conclusions of this work in progress are that the famous Irish drum has no ancient artistic past: it was always just a tambourine. The Irish device, from which the word ‘bodhrán’ comes, was an agricultural and domestic tray or container – even a sieve. Indeed, the history of the bodhrán that we have 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, and by now emblematic of Irishness. But we borrowed the rhythms from dancers’ feet, the device itself from either black and white minstrels or the Salvation Army, and synthesized the modern playing style from the sounds of Ulster Lambeggers, Indian tabla tippers and Scottish pipe-band snare drummers.