CHAPTER 4: Dulcimers in the British Isles since 1800 > Dulcimers in Northern Ireland

Older players & instruments

There is a general notion in NOrthern Ireland that the dulcimer travelled there with the Scots, perhaps three, four or five generations ago.

The first player in Northern Ireland to have been mentioned in the present study is Harry Coudy, about whom no details are known, except that he was flourishing some 50 years ago in the 1920s: he was remembered by Robert Gilbert.

Two other players, presumably of the same generation, have died in recent years:

John Johnson (d.1974, aged 76) had made four dulcimers;

Alec McGee of Larne (d.1968) made about a dozen instruments, many of them for young people, who apparently gave up when they found it too difficult; he was a joiner, took the measurements for his instruments from that of John Rea, and used autoharp pins from a music shop.

There was an older type of dulcimer played in Northern Ireland; the precise period when it was common is hard to determine, but it was probably 20-30 years ago. It is immediately recognisable, being unusually thick, about 8"-9", and having a wavy soundboard, with long bridges and courses rather more widely spaced than on other instruments.

Willie Rea has one which came from Owencloughy, near Glenarm, and John Leach has another which Derek Bell brought from Belfast; this instrument has 9 IV + 8 IV strings, rather high feet at each corner, no hole in the soundboard but six small holes in the front of the body, and carrying handles at either side: it is rather heavy. Willie Rea played a little for me on his, but said, "it's seemingly harder to play: I don't understand it, just".