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Bodhran history

22 Nov 00 - 02:09 PM (#345227)
Subject: Bodhran history
From: Kim C

I tried looking for this on the Supersearch but it isn't cooperating today so please excuse me if this has come up before (and I'm pretty darn sure it has).

What is the history of the bodhran? Was it traditionally an instrument that called warriors to battle? Used in religious ceremonies? Played at the neighborhood ceilidh? It's my understanding that it has not always been a part of traditional Celtic music like it seems to be now.

Thanks ----------- Kim

22 Nov 00 - 02:57 PM (#345252)
Subject: RE: Help: Bodhran history
From: Morticia

My understanding Kim, is that it was a fairly crude farm implement which was pressed into service on high days and holidays in order to make lots of noise but it's use in celtic music is a recent i.e. 20th century development.

22 Nov 00 - 03:19 PM (#345262)
Subject: RE: Help: Bodhran history
From: Roger in Sheffield

I found a few old threads and flicked through them. Didn't see anything about the history of them. google search comes up with a lot of pages ...please don't make me read them !!

Just one then Malachy Kearns

22 Nov 00 - 03:26 PM (#345264)
Subject: RE: Help: Bodhran history
From: Roger in Sheffield

click on "tutor" on MK's site for some theories but no answers


22 Nov 00 - 03:50 PM (#345273)
Subject: RE: Help: Bodhran history
From: GUEST,Bardford

Try this:
Click here
There is also a link somewhere on The Bodhran Page to a book by Janet McCrickard, who has done a fair amount of research on the origin of the Bodhran. I believe the word Bodhran comes from the old Gaelic phrase for " something that everyone wants to play, but nobody wants to hear." :-}
You can get to the Bodhran home page from the above link.
Cheers, Bardford

22 Nov 00 - 05:25 PM (#345324)
Subject: RE: Help: Bodhran history
From: Kim C

It says the word "bodhran" means "deaf"! Heeheehee!

So I realize this is a fairly new instrument to what we now call "traditional" music. But if it's been around that long, what were people doing with it? It seems like there's only theories, and no real answers. Or am I dreaming that?

22 Nov 00 - 06:12 PM (#345368)
Subject: RE: Help: Bodhran history
From: GUEST,Bardford

Apparrantly the drum was used by the Wren Boys on St. Stephen's Day. For info on the Wren Boys visit:
Click here

There is a novel by John B. Keane, The Bodhrán Makers, in which the drum and the Wren Dance are central to the narrative. A good read. As for the bodhrán connecting into 'trad' Irish music, word on the street has it that it is a fairly recent (ie. 1900's) phenomenon. Of course, the frame drum has been around forever in many if not most cultures. See Layne Redmond's book, "When the Drummers Were Women" for an exhaustive look at frame drums, women, and goddess culture.

Cheers, Bardford

22 Nov 00 - 07:06 PM (#345392)
Subject: RE: Help: Bodhran history
From: poet

The Bodhran was first invented by the Scots in 1462 but they had a lot of trouble with it they claimed that playing it damaged there Knuckles so much that they could'nt hold there claymores any more, so they sold the idea to the Irish who being smarter than your average at the time thought it would work better with a skin on it.

and so it has been proved.

Graham (Guernsey)
Bodhran Player and proud of it.

23 Nov 00 - 12:21 AM (#345536)
Subject: RE: Help: Bodhran history
From: GUEST,(Edgar A.)--a.k.a. Art Thieme

Bodhran was invented as a diaphram for Catherine The Great. (The jews harp was invented as her I.U.D.)

Art Thieme

23 Nov 00 - 02:36 PM (#345729)
Subject: RE: Help: Bodhran history
From: pict

Bodhar is the Scots Gaelic word for deaf the English word bother is derived from it.

23 Nov 00 - 05:45 PM (#345795)
Subject: RE: Help: Bodhran history
From: GUEST,Liam's Brother

Back in 1975, I was one of 5 or 6 people in the USA playing the bodhran. The Boys of the Lough, which included Robin Morton at that time, used one of course, as did the Chieftains. The Chieftains, at that time, had not yet given up their day jobs, as I recall. The first person I ever saw playing it was Brian Herron, founder of the Irish Arts Center in New York and a few of us learned by watching him and experimenting which, I guess, is all he had done.

My bodhran was made by Davey Gunn of Listowel, Co. Kerry. He was a very traditional maker and just used what he had at hand including an automobile tire, plywood, wire and some very ripe goatskin... no Celtic designs, Guinness logos, adjustable anythings.

At that time, it was as likely to be called the tambourine as anything else and there were only a small handful of recordngs of Irish music which had bodhran played on them.

The idea of anyone being a "bodhran specialist" was inconcieveable at that time.

The bodhran is "the deafener," an indication of the high place it held in the order of Irish music.

All the best,
Dan Milner

23 Nov 00 - 07:47 PM (#345823)
Subject: RE: Help: Bodhran history

Bodhrans were originally used for sorting wheat from chaff; you shook the wheat up and the lighter chaff blew away. The English name for the implement in the times when it was used was a dildurn. Bodhran (with a sine fada on the "a") means "little deafener".

23 Nov 00 - 11:01 PM (#345877)
Subject: RE: Help: Bodhran history
From: Jimmy C

I believe that Guest JTT is correct, it was a farm implement for chaffing wheat. The word Bodhran means 2 things in Irish

1 - Bodhran m- deaf person 2 - Bodhran m - hand drum - fada over the a in both cases.

other related words are

bodhar - deaf/numb bodhaire - deafness bodhraigh - deafen, annoy, deaden bodhranai - bodhran player

24 Nov 00 - 01:31 AM (#345924)
Subject: RE: Help: Bodhran history
From: aussiebloke

Some history here...

Click here to go to:


24 Nov 00 - 09:58 AM (#346043)
Subject: RE: Help: Bodhran history
From: A Wandering Minstrel

I can remember first hearing one played at a pick-up in a small pub in Ballinskelligs (West Killarney) back in the late 60's so they've been around at least that long and more so in Ireland!

Strangely enough I made my first bodhran from an old wooden riddle or dilurn by removing the mesh and replacing it with parchment. so there is probably some truth in this theory. (saves a lot of buggering about trying to steam wood into a hoop any road!)

I favour the explanation that it originates with Irish kerns banging their pointy sticks on their shields to frighten the enemy

24 Nov 00 - 01:15 PM (#346129)
Subject: RE: Help: Bodhran history

Not a theory - if you look up an 18th- or 19th-century Irish-English dictionary you'll find bodhran translated as dildurn.

24 Nov 00 - 07:00 PM (#346249)
Subject: RE: Help: Bodhran history
From: GUEST,Mark. West Sussex

Bodhrans developed from round trays used for carrying cut peat. Such trays can still be seen today on remote small holdings. I once asked the late Seamus Maeker why, as peat bricks are oblong cut with a standard sized peat spade, the trays were not made square or straight-sided. He looked at me with pity and then said, "Jeez you English are stupid. If the peat is staright and the tray is straight, sure there would be no room for your thumbs when you're carrying it!" Wheat and chaff were separated in raddles. All wheat grown was exported by profiteering landlords. There are no Mills in Ireland. Thus, when the potato blight struck, millions starved. The dual use of trays, spoons, bones etc. for work and leisure is a common folk thread born of abject poverty. Best Bodhrans today are made by Mog.

24 Nov 00 - 07:45 PM (#346282)
Subject: RE: Help: Bodhran history
From: Bernard

As I heard it, the bodhran was 'invented' during the 1960's in Leicester, England...

Then again, John Logi Baird didn't invent the television - it was a fellow called Blumlein...

Many 'inventions' are developments of someone else's ideas - James Watt's steam engine, for example.

Thread creep? Perish the thought!! But there must be something more interesting than bodhrans!!!

24 Nov 00 - 07:47 PM (#346283)
Subject: RE: Help: Bodhran history
From: Bernard

BTW, Mark - who is this fellow Peat who had to be carried around?!!

27 Nov 00 - 11:47 AM (#347028)
Subject: RE: Help: Bodhran history
From: Kim C

I have a Malachy Kearns bodhran and I like it very much.

Well, here's the position I'm going to take in a living history context. Tell me what you think: this is a bodhran, it's very very old, its exact origins are somewhat shrouded in myth and mystery. the skin-head frame drum has existed in many cultures around the world for centuries. The prevailing theory is that the bodhran started out as a sort of tray either for chaffing wheat or carrying peat, and someone got the bright idea that if they knocked on the skin head, it would make a pretty good noise. Scholars believe it was used to call people into battle, and also used during religious ceremonies. It is a relative newcomer to what we now call "Irish Traditional Music." We do not know for certain that it is or is not appropriate as musical accompaniment for this time period. [which, for me and Mister, will be 1860s or pre-1840]

I want to have an excuse to play the thing but I don't want to mislead anyone about it, and I want to have an opportunity for the audience to learn something. Any more suggestions?

27 Nov 00 - 12:11 PM (#347047)
Subject: RE: Help: Bodhran history
From: GUEST,Martin Ryan

Fintan Vallely, in his Handbook of Irish Traditional Music, refers to a single mid-19C. illustration where someone appears to be playing a large tambourine, using hand or stick (I'm not sure which)against the skin. This may or may not be a bodhran as we know it. As mentioned earlier, the word appears in Dineen's Irish dictionary (early 20 C.) with both drum and tray/winnow meanings. I've also seen it in P W Joyce's "English as we speak it in Ireland" . The fact that it is anglicised there (1910) suggests it was around for some time by then.

Vallely reckons its use as a drum was largely confined to the "Wren" (St. Stephen's Day celebrations) until Sean O Riada started using it in the early sixties.

Older bodhrans often had coins, pot-menders etc. inserted as rattles - and the instrument was often referred to as a tambourine. It is quite likely that some of this usage came via Salvation Army use.


p.s. I love that line about the turf-carrier.

27 Nov 00 - 01:33 PM (#347107)
Subject: RE: Help: Bodhran history
From: Kim C

Maybe Al Gore invented the bodhran and just hasn't owned up to it yet...

27 Nov 00 - 04:02 PM (#347215)
Subject: RE: Help: Bodhran history
From: paddymac

This thing called a bodhran is a typical frame drum, common to many cultures throughout the ages. In many cultures, it was/is referred to as a "Shamans' Drum". Sometimes, as in most native american cultures, it was used exclusively for ceremonial purposes. Other cultures no doubt had multiple uses for it. Being made of wood and hide, it isn't the kind of thing likely to survive long enough to be found by an archeologist. Seems like I've read that there are some depictions thought to represent frame drums in some "cave art" locales.

Interestingly, I can find no mention of the bodhran in Tomas O'Canainn's "Traditional Music in Ireland" (ISBN 0-946005-73-7), although it is included in the cover photo of instruments commonly found today in ensembles playing "traditional" Irish music.

27 Nov 00 - 05:22 PM (#347274)
Subject: RE: Help: Bodhran history
From: InOBU

There was an old documentary in the late nineteen seventies which propunded the theory that it came to Ireland from North Africa, as it was found on the west coast where you also find a lot of blood type groups related to the Burber coarsairs who used to find a lot of reera on the west coast of Ireland. Like Liam's brother, I first saw a Bodhran in the hands of Brian Herron, (the grand son of James Connolly - son of Nora Herron...) though I don't think he actually invented it, rather, Brian, who I still see every once and awhile, when he strays from Nova Scotia, would be the first to say, that he likely mastered it as a tool of social change - population control and mass indoctrineation.


27 Nov 00 - 05:56 PM (#347306)
Subject: RE: Help: Bodhran history
From: GUEST,Ole Bull

With respect to the 19th century illustration mentioned above, it sounds more like a minstrel Tambo man. Beginning in 1843 the standard line-up of the minstrel band was tambourine and bones, fiddle and banjo with sometimes a triangle or accordian. The very first minstrel band toured throughout England and Scotland and they were followed by many more who inspired homegrown imitations. It was, at that time, quite the rage in the British Isles. Nearly all illustrations of that period show the tambourine being held and played almost like the bodhran is, and also being about the same size, say 14 inches or more, but no stick or beater is seen. It may have been played by the knuckles. Was the modern "traditional" Irish band inspired by mid-nineteenth century "Ethiopian" groups of the the US? Probably. Bluegrass was for sure. Its a connection that seems to have been disregarded.

28 Nov 00 - 01:13 PM (#347591)
Subject: RE: Help: Bodhran history

The bodhran, a hand-drum called by that name and no other and made specifically to be a musical instrument, and for no other purpose, was invented in the 1930s. It derives, as others have noted, from earlier use of winnowing trays as improvised drums.

See David G. Such, "The Bodhran: The Black Sheep in the Family of Traditional Irish Musical Instruments", Galpin Society Journal, Vol. 38, page 9 (1985).

28 Nov 00 - 01:30 PM (#347600)
Subject: RE: Help: Bodhran history
From: GUEST,T in Oklahoma (Okiemockbird)

Our guest exaggerates slightly. As I recall Such's article, it doesn't say that the bodhran (as the guest defines it) was invented in the 1930s, only that it can't be documented earlier than that.


28 Nov 00 - 02:03 PM (#347619)
Subject: RE: Help: Bodhran history
From: Kim C

Ole Bull, that's probably because minstrel music, not being PC any longer, is overlooked as part of music history. Apparently there are those who are offended by such.

29 Nov 00 - 08:28 AM (#348172)
Subject: RE: Help: Bodhran history
From: MartinRyan

Ole Bull

Sounds possible, alright. It might even tie in with the Wren association, since the latter involved disguise/costume - and frequently blackface.

So far then, we have the word itself definitely back to the end of 19C. and the drum to early 19 c. Doesn't mean, of course, that the trail started there - just that anything else is speculation.