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  • Charlie Byrne for over forty years made the best bodhráns in the world, for top end traditional players many of whom have several of his bodhráns. He was also my step-father's father.

    I say step-father but although I think of him that way, he wasn't actually married to my mother. They lived together in sin, both divorced from their original spouses and Charlie didn't approve much of that or their relationship or me I guess. He didn't approve much of his son being an alcoholic either so my contact with him as a child was limited and not very much of anything resembling family or step-family, remaining cordial but impersonal. It was just who he was. Upstanding and moral, true to himself and his beliefs. Traditional. Sensitive to the shape and shadow of sound he loved music and taught it to his children. Charlie's son (who eventually broke up with but remained great friends with my mother) and his eldest daughter who was my mother's childhood friend, his grandson (who grew up and married my cousin) and granddaughter (my step-father's daughter by a subsequent relationship) and his great grandsons (my second cousins) all remain a close and beloved part of my life and family and I knew Charlie and Peggy mostly through them.

    There's something wonderful about the drums Charlie made. He cured his own skins from 'mighty goats' and shaped the wood with a skill born from long practice at his craft, and they have a wonderful rich earthy sound to them, especially in the hands of an experienced player which sadly I am not. He'd often have a tip for the races too, having spent time training horses. I would, once grown, never have dreamed of placing a bet on the Grand National without phoning my step-father Austin to find out if Charlie had given him a clue to which horse was best.

    When my mother last went to visit Charlie and his wife Peggy a little while before he died, he'd been ill and was getting older so had stopped making them but still had a few good bodhráns at his house, so she had him pick one out and got it for me as a gift. It's double skinned and has a beautiful timbre and as it was for us he signed it, the only one he's ever done that for. It's quite a treasure.

    Now Charlie Byrne's Bodhrán hangs on my wall and comes down for a hamfisted knuckle graze from me once in a while. I simply enjoy the sound of it on occasion even though I can't use it properly. In truth I know the instrument far better than the man who made it, but in it I find him also. Hard and soft, giving and un-giving. Wood and skin and nails and love and unspoken sounds taut within it's circle. Humans and instruments are complex things to understand and extract the essence from.

    I may learn to play it properly one day, when I can bring to this fine instrument the full depth of life experience that Charlie Byrne built it to express.
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