If you’ve been following me for any length of time, you will probably know by now that I’m a bit obsessed with my bodhrán!
A bodhrán is an Irish frame drum, which in modern day is traditionally played with a tipper/beater. The bodhrán became popular in performance music in the 1950s and 60s, but its origins are thought to be much older.
In Ireland, the bodhrán was played on St. Stephens Day (December 26th) in a ritual known as “Hunting the Wren” (when hunters go out on the day after Christmas and attempt to catch a wren). Wren boys accompanied the following ceremony with whistles and bodhrán-like drums.
Although this is a Christian tradition, it has pagan roots and so there’s speculation that this tradition goes back many centuries into pre-Christian Ireland. Many traditional bodhráns were also tambourines (with bells along the frame) and usually made with goat or sheepskin.
Wren Boys, St. Stephen’s Day, Co. Limerick. Caoimhín Ó Danachair, 1947
The earliest proof of the use of the bodhrán goes back to a book of the 15th century.
Interestingly, this reference comes from a medical transcript which describes the sound of a bloated belly as the sound of a drum (bhodhrán).
There is also a painting from 1845 of a bodhrán being played at a community gathering. The painter, Daniel Maclise, attended a Halloween party in Blarney (Ireland) which is thought to have inspired his painting “Snap Apple Night, or All Hallow Eve”.
In the painting the drum is being played without a tipper, but instead with bare hands, which is how I play it. (You can explore my music here.)
Snap Apple Night, or All Hallow Eve by Daniel Maclise
How the frame drum came to Ireland in the first place is a mystery.
Some say that the drum originated in Africa or Central Asia and was spread through Europe as migration and trade took place. Others say that it evolved from an Indigenous agricultural tool into a drum.
The wight in Ireland, for example, was made of ash or willow with goatskin stretched around the frame. The wight had agricultural uses (like carrying seeds during the planting season) and it was also a kitchen utensil (for kneading bread or as a sieve for milk, for example).
If the ancient Irish were using drums, we could guess that they were likely used for ritual, which we see reflected in the more modern ritual of Hunting the Wren. On the Isle of Man (located between Ireland and Britain) there is a similar kind of frame drum known as a dollan. Villagers beat the dollan on Bealtaine during purification fire rituals. Some people speculate that drums may have been used for war, to rally the warriors.
I would really like to think that drums had an important place in ancient Ireland. Perhaps archeological evidence will one day bring this to light.
Devotional song: Wind on the Mountain – Tara Wild
In the Mediterranean and North Africa, drumming was a sacred role held by women.
Learning about the sacred connection between drumming and women in Layne Redmond’s book “When the Drummers Were Women” was honestly nothing short of life-changing for me. It felt like such a pure and deep remembrance to realize that the sound of the drum resembles the sound of the heartbeat in the womb, connecting us to the heartbeat of the Great Mother.
Connecting with the Great Mother through drumming has been a powerful ritual practice for me.
I personally relate to Great Mother as Danu, who is the mother of the Tuatha Dé Danann in the Irish tradition. There have been many times over the years when I have drummed to connect with Danu and felt her loving presence – her heartbeat mirroring my own.
Drumming has been important to so many of our ancient ancestors around the world since time immemorial, offering humanity pathways into ritual, prayer, and altered states of consciousness to connect with that which is greater than us.
Drumming is an act of love, community, shared experience. A language without words that speaks directly to our hearts.
This is the power of drumming.
As the evolution and popularity of the bodhrán continues, I hope that more research comes to light about this powerful instrument and its place in ancient history and Irish culture.
– UPCOMING EVENT –
Singing the Ancestors
Journey into the Heart of Ancestral Connection through Sacred Sound
– SACRED SOUND OFFERING, FRIDAY JANUARY 14TH –
Events are 60-minutes long and include a sacred sound performance, ancestral honoring, guided visualizations, and opportunities to drum and sing along with simple chants and rhythms. Live events take place once a month, and recordings are sent out to those who can’t attend live.
There’s also a theme to our sessions each month, and the theme for January is Activate your Inner Seeress.
We’ll be exploring our connection to our Inner Seeress, weaving into sacred connection with the Otherworld & calling forth our ability to vision and dream in powerful ways. This is a journey into the heart of your intuitive self and third eye magic.
When you embark on this Sacred Sound journey of Singing the Ancestors, you’ll be guided to unleash your primal, authentic voice, guided and supported by the ancestors. The experience also includes guided visualizations and ancestral honoring. You will have the opportunity to sing or drum along with me as I take you on a journey with the ancestors.
This month’s event is taking place on Friday, January 14th! (A recording will be available afterward.)