Updated: Jun 7, 2022
On the coast of the Connemara, approximately an hour driving from Galway City, there is a charming 19th century fishing village called Roundstone. Smaller than any Brazilian country town, the village is full of colorful houses along the Atlantic and the imposing Connemara Mountains. At the end of the main road (I dare say perhaps it is the only road in the village), there is an old Franciscan monastery and right beside it a sign that says “Roundstone Music & Craft”, the shop/studio of bodhrán maker Malachy Kearns. Also known as “Malachy Bodhrán”.
We paid a visit to Malachy two weeks ago and we couldn't be more welcomed. He made us good coffee (black strong coffee, the Brazilian way!) and told us his life story, his relationship with people from all over the world, about his business in the store and how he learned to do bodhrán. He also told us that he had a Brazilian woman working with him for a while in the store and that he has the greatest appreciation for our country.
The shop is filled with classic Irish souvenirs. T-shirts, pins, mugs, pictures, postcards, CDs, stuffed sheep...everything you'd expect of a shop for tourists. Until you go to the back, where there is a huge shelf full of bodhrán hanged all over the place, and further back, his workshop.
Always made with goatskin and different tone woods, it is the typical bodhrán used by folks who play Kerry's style (click here on this article about styles in bodhrán that has everything explained!), with a powerful sound and usually with frames larger than the most modern bodhrán. Unfortunately, our editor partner and specialist Gustavo Lobão was not on this visit with us to describe more
details about Malachy's instruments, but with just a little research on Youtube you can find some examples. After all, his bodhráin are in the hands of important musicians like Christy Moore (Planxty) and Kevin Conneff (The Chieftains), who are also his longtime friends. Malachy says that when Conneff goes into his shop it's a magical moment. He goes on testing bodhrán by bodhrán and taking wonderful sounds from the instruments around the store, and says it's a show in itself. Malachy is also responsible for all the drums for the famous Irish dance show Riverdance...and I even took a photo on top of one the drums, pretending to be Michael Flatley!
Malachy has worked in bodhrán construction for at least 42 years and had Peadar Mercier as his master. Peadar is one of the first bodhrán players since Irish music had its "revival", he was part of Ceoltóirí Cualann and the first formation of The Chieftains. Malachy said that Peadar used to go to Roundstone quite often, and that the process of learning how to build bodhráin came naturally between them. In other words, Malachy Kearns is a person with great importance and responsible for the preservation of Irish traditional music, and he seems to take this with great pride.
Right next to the studio, there is a small room that looks like a mini museum. Photos, paintings, certificates, awards and letters are all over the wall. It turns out that Malachy also makes decorative bodhráns - instruments that are not meant to be played properly, but rather as a souvenir and decoration object, and so his list of clients grows even more. Even Barack and Michelle Obama ordered one of these directly from Malachy, and the official order email is right there on the wall of the little “museum”. In addition to many other requests from famous people, Malachy's decorative bodhráns with drumhead designs are scattered in thousands of souvenir shops across Ireland.
It was quite an experience visiting Roundstone Music & Crafts and we highly recommend it to everyone, musicians, non-musicians, tourists and locals. Being welcomed by Malachy and listening to his stories is what makes us feel truly in Ireland and so close to the musical culture we love, even more surrounded by the exuberant beauty of Connemara. Here I leave the contact information for those interested!
Roundstone Music & Crafts