What’s the oldest Irish instrument that is still in use today?
The bodhran? The whistle?
The bodhran? The whistle?
Either bones or the voice, probably. Bones would have been about for longer, but not played.
Bones. Unless you count the voice as a musical instrument, which is only semantics. Bones are probably the oldest musical instrument, period.
Ask a musicologist, preferably one without a political agenda.
Perhaps celticagent means a particular instrument still being used to play some sort of Irish music. I would probably expect that to be an old fiddle somewhere.
"Perhaps celticagent means a particular instrument still being used to play some sort of Irish music."
So "the bodhran" and "the whistle" means specific instruments?
Yes! ‘The whistle’ and ‘the bodhran’ are presumably nick names for these antique yokes. But can anyone shed light on ‘The flute’ or ‘The mandolin’ for instance?
Bones, voice and rustic wind instruments aside wouldn’t the oldest instrument be the harp?
Someone with more knowledge please chime in.
Meaning played regularly at sessions?
Bodhrán is quite a recent instrument, so not that.
Harps were around 5000 years ago, I believe. I think the earliest sessions were probably bones and harp affairs.
The fart ?
"Harps were around 5000 years ago, "
There is no evidence of a harp existing in Ireland 5000 years ago. The question concerns "the oldest Irish instrument". It’s down to a guess, educated or otherwise.
For those who argue that the voice is not an instrument, I suggest a stone wall, used to reflect the sound of a voice. A principle still in use today, and must have been discovered quite early on.
This wall could also be used to reflect the sound of a fart, nae doot.
Silicon was lying about in the Earth’s crust for millions of years before bones were invented. Therefore, it has to be the digital piano.
…and harps were played by Angels in heaven very early on - possibly even before silicon was invented.
Dinosaur eggs. These were shaken at some hot Jurassic sessions 200 million years ago. Eggs are still shaken by dinosaurs.
"Perhaps celticagent means a particular instrument still being used to play some sort of Irish music. I would probably expect that to be an old fiddle somewhere."
Yes typical of discussion boards the original question was worded vaguely, and could mean
1) the oldest type/species of instrument
2) the oldest individual surviving vintage instrument still being regularly used to play Irish music.
If 1) obviously the voice, then clacking bones, then bone whistles (at least that we have surviving examples of; cane flutes/whistles/reedpipes would have deteriorated).
If 2) yes probably a 17th or 18th century fiddle being used by somebody.
For many years I played a Rudall & Rose flute made at their 1827-1837 address. The fiddler I played with used a fiddle of around the same vintage. The timber the c1825 fiddlemaker had used came from a 17th century Public House which had just then (1825) been torn down.
So in most gatherings we had the two oldest instruments. But sometimes a certain fiddler would show up with a fiddle made in the early 18th century, and beat us by a century.
A number of late 18th century/early 19th century uilleann pipes are still being played.
With Highland pipes, it’s not uncommon to have every set in a band be made in the 1880-1930 period. My set was made between 1880 and 1907.
"Silicon was lying about in the Earth’s crust for millions of years before bones were invented. Therefore, it has to be the digital piano."
Must have been one heck of a wait for someone to arrive to play it.
Ear or dots? Bearing in mind the possibility that oak galls probably existed before homo sapiens roamed the earth, therefore ink was available before human ears could listen.
"Yes typical of discussion boards the original question was worded vaguely, and could mean…"
The wording is unambiguous. If someone was asking a question (that they didn’t know the answer to already), then naming (possible) instruments would just be a suggestion. The definite article would not be used.
It would be:
"What’s the oldest Irish instrument that is still in use today?
A bodhran? A whistle?"
By using the definite article, it shifts emphasis from a known individual instrument to an unknown, but earliest example of a particular (specified) type of instrument.
Strange old language, English. Using the definite article to describe something in general.
If anyone is really interested, Simon O’Dwyer is the person who’s done the most research into prehistoric instruments in Ireland (if that’s what the original question is about). His website is: http://www.ancientmusicireland.com/
It’s very much a grey area for ethnomusicologists though, as we’re never going to have enough evidence to do more than speculate.
My apologies! I meant the oldest instrument in use today in sessions and Feis.
Now it’s getting ambiguous.
It’s probably a fiddle. Most old instruments that survive land up in museums, not sessions. You can probably rule out wind instruments because of pitch changes, but there are still a lot of violins from the eighteenth century still in regular use, and although most of them aren’t Irish, someone somewhere is probably playing a 300 year old Irish made fiddle.
My #1 violin is late 18th century; the other is 12 years old. Both get played at sessions.
"My #1 violin is late 18th century; "
Yah boo. My number one fiddle is ca. 1760. However, it’s French.
Not that this is going to amount to anything conclusive.
My post crossed with Mark’s, so here is some further information arising out of his. My #1 violin has been in my family since 1850, and was bought by my Mother’s great-grandfather in West Wales from an Irish musician who had come over from Ireland (fleeing the Famine and needed money, perhaps?). The violin itself is most unlikely to have been made in Ireland; it is a German copy of a Strad - as many late-18th c German violins apparently were.
Where you’re more likely to see really old violins still in use is in the classical music world - and that’s excluding the Strads and the like. The leader of one of my orchestras plays a violin authentically dated at 1700 (so therefore 17th c), and a former colleague in that orchestra played one dated 1685. When they’re that age you treat them with respect!
" it is a German copy of a Strad - as many late-18th c German violins apparently were."
The 19th century brought the mass produced Strad copies in Germany and Schönbach etc.
If yours is genuinely German 18th century it’s likely to be a cut above those from the 19th century. Has it got a neck graft?
A great deal of the German instruments in the 18th century were influenced by Stainer. The Strad pattern took a while to gain popularity.
"When they’re that age you treat them with respect!"
So, no four poster bed then?
No…I mean the oldest instrument still in use, not the oldest made instrument
Gah. We’re speaking English here, right? I’m not talking about an instrument that was made in the 1700s still in use, I’m talking about the historical use of instruments!
"Gah. We’re speaking English here, right?"
Indeed. That’s why your original post made more sense.
However, once you got the ball rolling with your subsequent post, it was destined to lead to talk of old fiddles.
That’s the way things go on here.
I have a t-shirt from the British Museum, that has an image taken from a Greek pot, of what my wife calls "A whoopsie lady", revealingly dressed, and playing what are obviously bones, to the music of a long-flute player, not much better dressed.
So; flute and bones then.
Was the Greek pot on an Irish sideboard?
Guernsey Pete: Define "whoopsie lady." Is this a type of lady specific to Greek pots? And do you know that she is a lady?
Everything else has been mentioned but I have to say something,
The first musical instrument is and has everywhere always been the human voice.
Ireland had the benefit of being originally connected to Europe, enjoys a good selection of animals which provided the means to making various implements including primitive flutes.
However, I assert that the oldest musical instrument in Ireland is Paddy Moloney’s wig!
"The first musical instrument is and has everywhere always been the human voice."
The first melody instrument, yes. But if "musical instrument" includes percussion, then body percussion (the clapping of hands, the stamping of feet) and the bashing of sticks and bones together, may be older in the genus Homo than the ability to vocalize. Of course we’ll never know which came first: drum circles, a capella singing, or some combination of both.
Personally, I lean towards percussion coming first, because we keep finding ever-older examples of tool-making, while people are still arguing over how well tool-users like Neanderthals and other relatives could vocalize.
So there ‘ya go; the oldest instrument in sessions and Feis is the stomping of the musician’s feet, as they play. 🙂
[*So, no four poster bed then?*]
I wonder if anyone still plays that with the four taps with the nut of the bow. I don’t.
"I wonder if anyone still plays that with the four taps with the nut of the bow. "
It’s expected up north - up north over the pond too.
This fiddler doesn’t have any reservations:
John Sheehan is a bit more careful, but it’s there:
Interesting, Weejie. Thanks for posting.
I always thought that Dave Swarbrick did the 4 bashes, but he didn’t. Probably because of the tune speed and his bow hold. 30-odd years ago is a long time! Anyway, this is how he did it : (ironically, the ending is superb) .. skip to 01’50 for the tune :
Yes, I have a clear recollection of him doing it, accompanied with a cry of ‘aargh, my varnish!!’.
Dammit! I watched to the end. What was superb about it? Hackneyed and slightly out of time (as always). Apart from that?
Definitely the didgeridoo. Those were developed before the oldest Irish harps: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Didgeridoo
What, didg doesn’t count? None of the instruments we play is specifically Irish in origin, you know. Uilleann pipes evolved from the Pastoral Pipes which were mostly made in Scotland and England. Fiddles are Italian, came over to Ireland from Scotland. Transverse flutes were developed in other countries. Accordions are German/Italian.
Oldest Clarke’s whistle is something like 1840? Probably people played some kind of fife/flute before that back into time immemorial but I don’t know what’s turned up in the archaelogical record of Ireland proper. Fife was a popular military instrument since the Renaissance, often in the hands of Swiss mercenaries, thus the "Schweizerpfife." For something specifically Irish you have the harp, the bodhran, and things like the "cuiseoil ceoil" the exact construction of which is still a mystery, or those Bronze age horns they dug up a couple years back. And those are just of historical interest. Bodhran was just a farm implement, too, like the musical saw.
John Doherty played the Four Poster Bed too. Why did we start discussing that? He plucked the strings instead of bashing the body of the fiddle.
I think combined ricochet bowing and left-hand pizzicato work best for that tune.
Weejie - ach sure b’jaysus what about Brian Borus golden harp himself? sure didn’t he play the Irish Washerwoman and drive away the Normans??
theres only one answer here - the banjo!!!! (queue boos and "down with this sort of thing"s from the banjo nay-sayers!!!)
"No…I mean the oldest instrument still in use, not the oldest made instrument
Gah. We’re speaking English here, right?"
Ambiguous English, yes. The "oldest instrument still in use" and "the oldest made instrument" can mean exactly the same thing.
If I’m somewhere and a guy is playing a fiddle made in 1700 it’s both the "oldest instrument still in use" (because it is being used) and "the oldest made instrument" (because it was made).
Sorry but I’ve spent far too many hours sitting around at Grad School discussions where people are spinning their wheels talking in circles because of ambiguous English. I ended up asking "do you mean this, or this?" and getting to the intended meaning. While my kids were in school I was The Parent From Hell because I would at times show a teacher that, due to the vague wording of a test question, all four choices were in fact equally correct. Amazing how many teachers can’t word a test question so that one, and only one, answer is correct.
Sorry for the detour from the topics!
"If I’m somewhere and a guy is playing a fiddle made in 1700 it’s both the "oldest instrument still in use" (because it is being used) and "the oldest made instrument" (because it was made). "
However, in the opening post, the poster mentioned "the bodhran" and "the whistle", not a specific bodhran or whistle. This would suggest (in fact it’s pretty unambiguous) that the question did not refer to a particular individual instrument. Grad school discussions take away time that could be allocated to playing tunes, anyway.
Here’s a list of some really ancient instruments, some of which are still in use today. Others are possibly the ancestors of common modern instruments.
Interesting website, but there are issues. For example:
"The earliest bone flutes in Ireland date from the Viking era but there can be no doubt that bone instruments were common in Ireland much earlier and were probably introduced with the first human habitation after the Ice Age. "
"There can be no doubt" - there is always doubt without evidence, even if there is only a niggling doubt.
That there is evidence of bone flutes existing in Ireland in the Viking era would give little doubt that they were played during the Viking era. Before that, it is open to speculation. That no earlier examples have been found in Ireland but have been found elsewhere is going to give foundation to some doubt. How it can be deduced that something was "common" when there is not a single material example is puzzling.
"There is uncertainty as to the actual age of the bodhrán tradition in Ireland but the unique swinging sideways style of playing which is employed only in Ireland probably indicates that the bodhrán has been a part of Irish music since its earliest origins."
You might as well claim the banjo as being the oldest instrument.
Voice and then probably an early bone flute. There have been early flutes dated to 43,000 years ago. Until the development of language, vocal music probably consisted of hoots and hollers. Someone mentioned bones, but the earliest recorded example I could find during a brief search was 18th century. This doesn’t mean they weren’t used, there’s just no archeological evidence to support use. Fiddle (or Violin) in its earliest incarnation didn’t arrive in Europe until the 10th and 11th centuries. After the flute, Harp is most likely the next on the list as they date back at least to 3500 BCE in Sumer (The earliest form was gut strung rather than wire). Pillared harps (to which the modern Clarsach belongs) have their earliest examples in 8th century CE depictions on Pictish stones. Union Pipes, Accordian, Concertina and tin whistles didn’t make appearences until the second half of the 1700’s. Guitars, Citterns, Mandolins and Bouzouckis all make later appearences from the 19th century forward to the present. Hope this helps.
Not from Ireland, but still relevant to European music in general, and flute/whistles in particular. Fascinating. This instrument was likely made by Neandertals, discovered in a cave in Slovenia. They’ve recreated it and play music with it. The music is eerie.