Irish arsenal

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

As Irish bands take the stage this week to celebrate St. Patty's Day, here's a look at the instruments they play.


The saying goes that the only difference between a violin and a fiddle is what the player drinks. The four-stringed instrument has been one of the most crucial to Emerald Isle folk music, and distinct styles have emerged across the country.

Uilleann pipes

Uilleann (pronounced "ILL-in") comes from the Gaelic word for elbow, and players use an underarm bellows to pump in air. Compared to Scottish bagpipes, this quieter instrument produces a wider range of notes. Long drones can create consistent bass and accompanying chords, while melodies flow from a small holed pipe called a chanter. The entire Braveheart soundtrack was recorded on uilleann pipes.


This stringed instrument of Greek origin was popularized in Irish music only about 40 years ago. It looks like a giant mandolin, with four sets of double strings and a wide, round acoustic body. Bands enjoy its tinny, ringing sound and rhythmic qualities.

Flute and tin whistle

The flute and tin whistle come in a wide range of shapes, materials and sizes. Good concert flutes can be complex and costly, but Irish musicians say a good tin whistle (usually made of brass) should cost as much as a pint and last a lifetime.


This simple drum - a goat skin stretched around a wooden frame - takes some heat in Irish music circles as being loud and clumsy. But when played properly with a small wooden club known as a beater, the bodhran (pronounced "bow-rawn") complements the rhythms made by other instruments.


Actually a cousin of the harmonica, the accordion was invented by a German and came to Ireland in the 18th century. The squeeze box is equipped with buttons that can sound chords or single notes that change whether the bellows is being opened or closed.

Sources: "The Music, Songs & Instruments of Ireland," The Drowsy Lads,