Welcome to
Roundstone Musical Instruments
and the World of Bodhráns

Frommers 98  Malachy Kearns on the Pulse of Irish Music

Listen to any recording of Irish music and you'll hear the unmistakable racing rolling rhythm of the bodhrán Ireland's traditional drum. With the world-wide success of the Riverdance show and the growing popularity of Irish music, this simple yet remarkable instrument is getting ever greater exposure.

The bodhrán pronounced bow-rawn, from an Irish word that means "deaf" or "hurling" - is a one - sided drum that usually measures 18' in diameter and 4" in depth, and is one of a family of frame-style (as opposed to barrel- or cone-shaped) drums whose branches can be found in cultures all, over the world, from Native Americans and peoples in China,, Russia, Lapland, the Basque country, Mongolia, and all the Islamic countries to the kid flailing a tambourine in your local rock band. Art from long before the Roman empire depicts musicians playing this type of drum, and its playing style has developed according to the needs of different cultures, in Ireland, it's played with a single short stick (known as a "beater" or "tipper") One hand presses behind the skin to alter the timbre and pitch while the tipper hand hits the skin in a circular style that requires great wrist flexibility and gives the playing power and subtlety.

Quite possibly, the Irish bodhran originated as a skin tray used to carry freshly Cut turf from the bog to be used as fuel. From here, it evolved into a farm implement used for winnowing (seperating chaff from grain) through the simple mechanism of punching holes in the skin, Keep the skin intact, though, and instrument whose sound a hauntingly dry yet resonant, nimble yet deep and grounding sound - is deeply rooted in the hearts of Irish people and connects at gut level to the life center within us all.

On St. Stephen's Day (December 26), groups of people with blackened faces and wearing outlandish costumes enact the "Wren Hunt" parading a captured wren from house to house while playing music especially the bodhran - and sin' ging a ceremonial song. The bodhrán is also featured in Mummers plays and harvest festivals and nowadays Irish football supporters take their bodhrans to international matches-the secret weapon of the ancient Gael!

Recordings with beautiful bodhrán playing include Christy Moore's "Live at the Point," Johnny " Ringo" McDonagh and Arcady's "Mány Happy Returns," Tommy Haye's "An Ras," and The Chieftains' "Chieftains Live"

A tip for buying a good bodhran: There are many cheap imported split calf skin bodhrans of very poor quality floating around out there. A good quality, tough, 3 - year - old goatskin is the most important feature. Goat skin has unique stretch properties and holds its tension well for a lifetime if not abused. Quality goatskin has a deep, haunting sound that is very freeing to play, creating a "Bounceback" effect. It's best if the skin is glued as well as tacked on the frame, especially for bodhrans going to hot clitnates.

-Malachy Kearns

Malachy Kearns (also known as "Malachy Bodhran is the world's premier bodhran maker and has crafted instruments for the Chieftains, Christy Moore, Moore, and the Riverdance ensemble, among others He can be seen Hard at work every day at Roundstone Musical Instruments in Connemara.


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Roundstone Musical Instruments Ltd.
Malachy Kearns,
IDA Craft Centre,Roundstone,
Co. Galway, Ireland.

Tel:+353 95 35808
Fax:+353 95 35980
E-Mail: [email protected]