Apologies for intrusion on this site, for my area is not linguistics, but music. What follows here is an open request for assistance, and assumes, and contains, information for which I have, of course, references, but which at this point, with regard to focus, I feel might best be taken as read or set aside for now, the better to appreciate my quest.
I have been researching the Irish version of the tambourine, known today as the bodhrán, and have established through imagery and references in literature that while the tambourine was of course a music instrument, our bodhrán was an implement, a ubiquitous and timeless household and agricultural utensil. That the term itself is old is verified, for us via the RIA dictionary, by its earliest use c. early 17th century in one of three Irish copies of the English MSS Rosa Anglica, TCD 1435.
In this context I do not feel that the popular explanation of the word 'bodhrán' in the 20th century (relating to its acoustic facility: = dull, or deafening, or deafness-related) is accurate. For if the bodhrán's primary function had been as a utensil or implement, it would seem that it might be unusual (but of course not entirely improbable) that its meaning should not relate to that primary function, or at least to the device's method of construction.
Indeed, the early versions of the dictionaries do translate 'bodhrán' as a 'winnowing fan' (for tossing grain in the air to remove chaff). But since this action has nothing to do with acoustic issues, is there any interpretation of a term sounding like 'bodhrán' which could relate to such action? That is, can other meanings can be derived phonetically from the sound of the word?
One such possibility is Dinneen's 1929 word 'Borrán = anger; could, this be extended to mean 'agitation', such as tossing grain in the air implies? Or his (1929) borrtha = swollen (distended skin) or his 1904 bórtha, =‘parched (dry skin; not in his 1929)? Alternatively, the word 'baighreán', meaning a gruel (flummery) strained through a sheepskin sieve (criathar) could have a function-related connection (in relation to the latter, the same dish in Welsh is known as 'bwdran'.
I use these examples as illustration of potential only. I am not requesting additional dictionary references (for these are demonstratively too flexible, involve much cross-borrowing of information, and anyway by now I have scoured most of them on these islands) . What I invite is different specialist knowledge, for what it all suggests to me is that researchers in music have so far been seeking sight of actual drums or such, in the wrong places - i.e. in the expected cultural, music and art sources. But if the bodhrán was not primarily a drum, then this search would be more profitably undertaken in MSS relating to agriculture, and to grain processing in particular.
So, finally, to get to my request, are there those among you who may have experience of, or access to, MSS relating to such oats/agriculture processing?
Much more information on this subject appears in the current edition of The Companion to Irish Traditional Music (2011), and more detailed information has been researched and is planned for publication later in 2012. Any suggestions or leads on the missing link - the actual meaning of the word 'bodhrán' - would be greatly appreciated and would of course be credited, acknowledged, etc. subject to mutual approval and further discussion. To date I have given this as a paper at various conferences and seminars (and welcome the opportunity to do so in the coming year) and each time have received fresh valuable insights.
I will leave it at this, and will welcome any comment
Best wishes, Fintan Vallely
Fintan Vallely, Editor, The Companion to Irish Traditional Music (2011)
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