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

Willie Rea

Willie Rea lives outside Ballyclare, where he and his father work extraordinarily hard running two farms which total 280 acres; they both play in one of the many local flute-and-drum bands, along with Mr. Gilbert, and his brothers are country fiddlers. "John Rea taught me from the first: I'm his second cousin's son. He just took my hands and showed me the notes". That was when Willie was in his teens.

"We used to learn Scottish tunes from books when we were young; I don't trouble with the music now, just play with the ear ... sometimes I'll learn a new tune on a winter's night."

The instrument he plays is a copy of John Rea's, made by Alec McGee, although as mentioned above, he also has one of the older instruments; it is not known how and when the new type - or the old type, for that matter - came to Northern Ireland, but Willie said that "some say it's come from Scotland"; both he and his father thought this a perfectly reasonable suggestion, and spoke of their probable Scots ancestry, and of the view of Scotland to be gained from the Antrim coast.

Willie also spoke of hammers of cane or wood, and of the former being covered with Basil leather - of the sort used for patching the elbows of jackets - instead of wool.

The music was mostly played in the home, "fiddles, pipes whistles, an accordion, dulcimers, mouth-organs, all together: and spoons"; although Willie said he had played in a pub in Donegal, it was rather a rare occurence:

"they'd laugh at you if you took that into a pub nowadays ... there's not the same interest now..."