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Celtic Music, Ancient and Modern, Part III

Celtic Music, Part III, the Bodhrán and the Amazing Tin Whistle

In this post Christian author Mark Fisher continues his look at Celtic music with Part III—the bodhrán and the amazing tin whistle.


Tin Whistle Player, Northern Ireland, by Luna Stellaris

The Tin Whistle

The tin whistle. The penny whistle. The Irish flute. The fife. All are names for the cheapest Irish traditional instrument. You can buy a tin whistle for $10-$15. But it takes a lot of skill to play it well. Made of tin, brass, or hardwood, these simple flutes have six holes and are usually tuned in the key of D, the “basic key” of traditional music.

The Bodhrán

The bodhrán is an Irish drum from 10 to 26 inches in diameter (25 to 65 cm). The sides can be 3.5 to 8 inches deep (9 to 20 cm). Goatskin is stretched over one side of the frame. The other side is open. A hand placed against the back-side can change timbre and pitch.

The earliest bodhrán may have been merely a skin stretched over a wooden frame, used for carrying peat, separating chaff, or for serving food. Similar drums, beaten with a stick, have been used in Ireland since ancient times.

The bodhrán and the tin whistle go well together.

A man plays the bodhran whilst another man plays the penny whistle in a pub, Ireland, 1974. (Photo by Jill Freedman/Getty Images)

Traditionally Irish: A bodhran and a tin whistle player in a 1974 pub. (Photo by Jill Freedman/Getty Images)

Hear the Bodhrán and Tin Whistle Together

But we can only talk about these instruments so long until you actually have to hear them. The tin whistle can have a truly haunting sound.

  • In this short video we hear Anna Robinson and a bodhrán playing some traditional Irish tunes, with increasingly greater background accompaniment.

Click here to access the first video.

  • This next video features a jig with whistle and a

Click here to access the second video.

  • In our third link, hear the Dubliners in concert play a reel with accompaniment:

Click here to access the final video.

Okay, this was a shorter post, but with videos, probably longer. But do you see how the tin whistle’s sound can range from haunting and lonely to lively and active? ‘Tis truly a versatile instrument. I hope this quick tour has given you a flavor for Celtic music.

Next week we’ll begin looking at the Celtic monks, and how their desire to cloister themselves from the rest of society ended up saving western civilization itself.

Sources: Wikipedia, youtube

Mark is the author of The Bonfires of Beltane, a novel of Christian historical fiction set in ancient, Celtic Ireland at the time of St. Patrick. To learn more about his book, follow the link above.