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The tambourine in Ireland, NPU Henrietta St., Dublin

15 April, 2011
Na Píobairí Uilleann
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15 Henrietta Street, Dublin, Ireland, 1

Hunting for borr- án – shaking a stick at the origin myths concerning the Irish drum.

Evening lecture for Na Píobairí Uilleann at Henrietta Street, off Bolton Street, Dublin on work in progress on the history of the tambourine and bodhrán in Ireland.

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 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 never any more than 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 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. 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. If the speaker can locate a bodhrán player brave enough to enter the NPU there will be music; if not, appropriate tongue-in cheek-derisory songs will be sung…

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