CHAPTER 4: Dulcimers in the British Isles since 1800 > Dulcimers in Southern Ireland
Paul Gifford, and more especially, Silas Braley, have written from America about an Irish dulcimer-player who was active in Pittsburgh in the 1930s and 40s:
Paddy Needham "... played the dulcimer with the Irish groups around Pittsburgh for many years prior to World War II... I never had much of a discussion with him personally because he was difficult to communicate with, having a heavy Irish accent, combined with a vagueness that was extraordinarily difficult to penetrate (I felt he was continually drunk, but my friends told me this was not the case. "He's just odd"). My fiddler, a very elderly Irishman who had known him for years, told me that he played flute and fiddle also, but I never heard him.
"His whole life apparently was concerned with Irish music and he had no interests or abilities outside this field. He did not work when I knew him, and if he ever had, I have no idea what it could have been. I do not know whether he read music or not, but I very much doubt that he could. In fact, I question whether he could read and write at all.
"He had an incredible knowledge of Irish dance music, seeming to have an inexhaustible repertoire in that fuzzy mind. He never seemed to be able to suggest a tune, but no matter what tune he was asked to play, he would stare blankly into space for a while and then play it. No matter what music the orchestra played, he was able to play that tune, too .... Whether he learned the dulcimer here and applied his fiddle and flute music to it, or whether he played in Ireland, I do not know for certain. My friends told me he brought it from Ireland but this could very easily be wrong. As far as I know he was the only dulcimer player in western Pennsylvania, and my informants could well have considered the instrument exotic rather than native. I do not know when he came to the States, nor from what part of Ireland. He certainly left it only in body, not in spirit though.
"When I came back to Pittsburgh after the war (in 1946), I was told he had died. I have no idea what happened to his dulcimer, nor do I have any knowledge at all of how to go about finding out about it, or about him. I understood he had an elderly wife, but no other family, and lived a rather hand-to-mouth existence somewhere in one of the many Pittsburgh slums ...
"His dulcimer looked very similar to the standard American folk dulcimer - being about 3 1/2 feet long on the long side, about 1 1/2 feet on the short side, was about 5" thick and had the standard trapezoidal shape. It was painted green, with "Paddy" painted on the side near the tuning pegs, and "Needham" on the opposite side. "Dulcimore" was painted on the side toward the audience...
"I do not know how it was strung, nor how it was tuned. I did not play the dulcimer at that time and I never discussed it with him. There was the standard bridge for the melody area, but I do not recall if there was a bass bridge or not. From my memory of his playing, I feel that it was tuned as we do now: in 5ths, although I may not be correct in this. It sat on a small folding stand. He used two small hammers, just as we do now. I do not recall their specifics ....
"I was fascinated by the old Irish minor dance tunes and he seemed to know any that anyone ever asked him to play. I remember though , that he did not know what I meant when I asked him to play other minor tunes ...
"The orchestra usually consisted of several fiddles and flutes, along with piano and guitar. The group that played for dances at the All Ireland Athletic Club, where I heard Mr. Needham several times, must have had 20 members. I never heard the Irish pipes, but people told me there were some in Pittsburgh.
"Mr. Needham played with different groups around Pittsburgh apparently at every opportunity. I doubt he was paid very often.." (37).