Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Mandolin players in Ulster

I was talking to an elderly man a few weeks ago, whose uncle was born and bred not far from where I live in Ballyhalbert. Like so many of his generation the uncle emigrated to Canada around 1925, but before he left he had been a well-known local mandolin player. He and another man (presumably a fiddle or accordion player) used to do the rounds at local country dances many years ago. The mandolin was discovered in his near-derelict cottage about 20 years ago, a small bowl-backed model, but was riddled with woodworm and so was thrown out.

From other folk I have spoken with over the years, the mandolin seems to have been surprisingly common in our general area back in the early 20th century. Tuned the same as a fiddle, the transition to a mandolin would have been relatively easy. Small, cheap and lightweight must have been other benefits.

I've been told that in the USA, the mandolin was more popular than the guitar in the early 1900s, until Roy Rogers hit the big screen in the 1930s as the guitar-playing singing cowboy and then everybody wanted a guitar.

There is a musical tradition in rural Ulster that goes far beyond high profile things like marching bands. Do you know of any mandolin players in the history of your area? If so, please get in touch. (the pic here is just a random one, not the man mentioned above).


Newton_Lass said...

Hi Mark,

As you say, I think the mandolin was probably fairly popular in these parts in the early 20th century. I've emailed you a photo from the late 1930s of my dad, granda and friends with a granda's round backed mandolin and banjo-mandolin.