The Traditional Irish Bodhrán Drum

The Bodhrán Drum

The bodhrán is an Irish framed drum, ranging from 25 to 65cm in diameter, with most other drums measuring from 35 to 45cm. The bodhrán is made from goats-skins, tacked to one side. (Synthetic heads or other animal skins are sometimes used.) The other side is open ended for one hand to be placed against the inside of the drum head to control the pitch and timbre.

The Bodhrán in battles

History states that during the Irish rebellion of 1603, Tyrones rebellion, the bodhrán was used by the Irish forces as a battle drum, or that the drum provided a cadence for the pipers and warriors to keep to, as well as to announce the arrival of the army. This leads some to think that the bodhrán was derived from an old Celtic war drum. Seán Ó Riada declared the bodhran to be the native drum of the Celts, with a musical history that pre-dated Christianity.

The Bodhrán is similar to those frame drums distributed widely across northern African from the middle east, and has cognates in instruments used for Arabic music and the musical traditions of the Mediterranean region.

It has also been suggested that the origin of the instrument may be the skin trays used in Ireland for carrying peat; the earliest bodhrán may have simply been a skin stretched across a wood frame without any means of attachment.

How to Play The Bodhrán

The drum is usually played in a seated position, held vertically on the player’s thigh and supported by his or her upper body and arm (usually on the left side, for a right-handed player), with the hand placed on the inside of the skin where it is able to control the tension and therefore the pitch and timbre. By applying varying amounts of pressure and also the amount of surface area being played, with the back of the hand against the crossbar, if present.

The drum is struck with the other arm (usually the right) and is played either with the bare hand or with a lathe-turned piece of wood called a “bone”, “tipper”, “beater”, or “cipín”. The Bodhrán is a popular instrument used in a traditional Irish band, and is very rarely seen without in the band. It creates a deep almighty tone, and works well accompanied with a fiddle, guitar, harp etc or as a solo performance.

The Bodhrán is known world-wide as a strong Irish instrument and gives very entertaining and lively performances to its audiences. Local Irish pubs all over Ireland usually have traditional Irish bands perform every night.

Video of Bodhrán Playing

Bodhrán solo at the “World bodhran Championships” in Milltown Co. Kerry Ireland, (June ’07)

This article was first published on 22-03-2015 and last modified on 19-03-2017.

About the Author

Róisín Anraí
Róisín Anraí was born and raised in Ireland. She loves to travel in her spare time but also enjoys learning local history, telling ghost stories, and sharing her favorite Irish recipes. She has no problem telling stories with those who are willing to listen. Róisín is a regular contributor and author for YourIrish.com