Title: Alton: The First Ten Years 1986/1995--Pretty Peg; Altan. Label: Green Linnet. Format: CD. Catalogue#: GLCD 1153. Track: 1.

Contextual Associations

The bodhrán (pronounced ‘bow-rawn) is a single-headed frame-drum membranophone of Ireland. Originally a utilitarian object--a skin tray used for agricultural and domestic tasks--the bodhrán was also used sparingly as a ritual instrument for specific Irish folk rituals (such as Wren Boy celebrations) and for processions. Today it is primarily associated with traditional Irish folk music making, although it gained entry into this sphere only in the 1960s. Even more recently it has been appropriated by world hand drum and drum circle enthusiasts for the performance of decidedly non-Irish music.


The bodhrán is a single-head frame drum with a shallow, cylindrical shell made from steamed plywood bent into a circle. The mammal skin (usually goatskin) membrane that covers one open end of the shell is tacked to the side of the wood shell. Two wood strips the ends of which are imbedded in the interior wall of the shell crisscross one another at right angles to provide the performer with a handle.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The player holds the drum in one hand with the assistance of cross-shaped handle, the membrane positioned vertically and facing to the side, the rim resting on the player’s thigh. A short, stout wood beater (called a ‘tipper’ or ‘cipín’) with a knob at each end is used to strike the drumhead and the rim of the shell to produce a small variety of timbres. Player’s will sometimes eschew the beater and instead strike the membrane with their free hand. The performer provides basic rhythmic patterns associated with various types of tunes and dances, being careful not to dynamically overpower the melodic instruments and singers while at the same time tastefully enhancing the rhythmic essence of various dance forms.


The frame-drum form dates back millennia and is found widely distributed throughout the world. There is some iconographic evidence to suggest that the bodhrán was used in rural Irish music making as early as the mid-19th century, but it did not start to be used regularly for concerts and recordings of Irish music until after 1960. Since that time, there has been an explosion of interest in the instrument and many makers have emerged. Some have incorporated the fleshhoop/counterhoop-with-bolts tuning design to their instruments, but many makers still utilize more tradition methods of drumhead attachment.

Bibliographic Citations

Cunningham, Eric. 1999. “bodhrán,” in The Companion to Irish Traditional Music. Fintan Vallely, ed. New York: New York University Press, pp. 28-32.

Hast, Dorothea E., and Stanley Scott. 2004. Music in Ireland. New York: Oxford University Press.

Ó Súilleabháin, Micheál. 1984. “Bodhrán.” NGDMI v.1: 243-244.

Williams, Sean. 2010. Focus: Irish Traditional Music. New York: Routledge.


Instrument Information


Continent: Europe

Region: Northern Europe

Nation: Ireland

Formation: Celtic

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

211.321 membranophone--single-skin frame drum (the depth of the body does not exceed the radius of the membrane) with handle

Design and Playing Features

Category: membranophone

Number of drums comprising instrument: single drum

Shell design: tubular - frame

Number and function of membranes: one, for sounding

Membrane design: unframed

Membrane attachment: unframed membrane nailed to shell

Membrane tension control: none, tension set at time of manufacture

Sounding for membranophone: striking with one handheld beater

Sound modifiers for membranophone: none


18 in. diameter

Primary Materials

wood - laminated
membrane - mammal skin





Entry Author

Roger Vetter