Hurdy Gurdy it is..... and although a good chunk of money, this one was not as expensive as most of them out there. It was built for me by a gentleman in Oregon, in a workshop in his back yard with a wood stove and a solar panel on the roof....
The hg Donovan sings of is actually a barrel organ. (Crank it, it plays a tune, think player piano).
First seen in depictions found in the Iberian peninsula (what is now Spain and Portugal) dating back to 1100 the hg was the street instrument for many centuries. They were also used in churches as the drones are quite good at keeping the congregation in tune. The Notre Dame in Paris has several depicted on the sculpting it has on it's exterior. Louis XIV was a music freak and had them all over the palace cranking at all times....think "rave". Then there was the dark chapter of the Hessian Hurdy Gurdy Girls....read here:http://www.economypoint.org/h/hurdy-gurdy-girls.html
A piece of American History which is conveniently left out of the books.....
The instrument is still in use in folk music, although in a more modern iteration, in Eastern Europe. And the Swedes have a derivative known as the Nyckelharpa, also still in use in folk music.
I use mine at SCA events and play medieval-ish and later traditional tunes for general entertainment. For those of you that are familiar with the SCA, I particularly have a lot of fun joining the drum circles....the dancers LOVE any melody instrument, and I have sort of mastered a few middle eastern-ish scales that I can vamp for hours. I call it:Drive by taksim.... However, my friends and family have made me promise never to tune it in their presence again.
It can be heard here in a recording/video I threw together and posted to youtube in a camper in about 45 minutes, as a demonstration for my kids, using the hurdy, a dumbek, a macbook running on an inverter and a Sprint wireless card.......it's not as tight as I would like it to be, but it was fun to do.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mzgrK4xjgAg