Ireland’s music makers

In Ireland, you’ll find that music is in our DNA. These sweet sounds are enabled by our talented master crafters; people who are dedicated to creating the tools of the trade using traditional handcrafting methods and beautiful design. Here are five of the finest…

1. Bodhrán maker, Malachy Kearns

Tucked inside an old Franciscan monastery in the coastal village of Roundstone, County Galway, you’ll discover the steady beat of a master at work. Malachy Kearns has handcrafted bodhráns for over 35 years, and these beautiful one-sided traditional Irish drums are used by folk musicians across the world. Malachy treats the goatskin cover with a traditional process, stretching it across the birch wood frame. This unique drum produces a range of tones when hit with a small stick – known as a “tipper” – as the musician skilfully presses and moves their hand, tucked in behind the back of the instrument. Visitors can meet Malachy here at Roundstone Music and Craft Shop on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, where he explains his craft amid the aromas of varnish and wood.

2. Uilleann pipe producer, John Butler

Situated on beautiful Achill Island off the coast of County Mayo, John Butler creates a range of sweet-sounding Uilleann pipes. Similar to the bagpipes, these beautiful instruments are powered by bellows pinned between the arm and hip. There are almost 100 individual components in each set of pipes – so each instrument is a true labour of love! John moved to Achill after falling in love with the stunning scenery and rich traditional music scene on the island. In fact, there’s a good chance you’ll find him playing a seisiún (music session) at his local bar, The Annexe, in the small village of Keel. Now, who’s up for a dance?

3. Harp craftsman, Tim O’Carroll

There’s nothing quite like the delicate sounds of an Irish harp. These huge yet graceful instruments have become a symbol of Ireland over the years, enriching the harmony of many a traditional tune. Situated within the rugged Ring of Kerry, master crafter Tim O’Carroll shapes beautiful harps in his workshop in the town of Killarney. His first masterpiece was borne from 18 months of passion and dedication, forging a design that is known as the Inishfallen Harp. Killarney Harps are made from beautiful woods such as ash, cherry, mahogany and walnut, and the design is inspired by the rich culture and beauty of Killarney. If you'd like to hear harps in action, be sure to stop by Achill International Harp Festival (October), which welcomes harpists from as far afield as South America every year. Expect an eclectic collection of traditional, blues, folk and jazz recitals surrounded by the wild beauty of Achill Island, County Mayo.

4. Master fiddler and violin maker, Jim McKillop

Jim McKillop first started to play at the age of 26 and within four short years had won several of Ireland’s most prestigious competitions. Originally from the picturesque Northern Ireland village of Cushendall in County Antrim, his natural musical talent, coupled with a magic touch for craftmanship, has made him famous among string musicians the world over. Jim now lives in Ravensdale, County Louth, in Ireland's Ancient East, and you’ll find him making music at Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann (August), the world’s largest annual celebration of Irish music. Taking place in Drogheda in 2018 (the location changes every year), music lovers can expect traditional music sessions, céilí (dances), song and competitions showcasing the finest musical talent from across the island.

5. Guitar luthier, George Lowden

George Lowden has crafted guitars for over 40 years and recently celebrated the production of the brand’s 20,000th guitar. His workshop can be found in the Northern Ireland town of Downpatrick, County Down, where a small crew, including his sons, create unique guitars admired the world over. Lowden’s superstar customers have a more contemporary style and include Ed Sheeran, Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody and the legendary Eric Clapton. In the workshop, the spicy scent of cut timber hangs in the air and each guitar takes around 40 hours to complete by the skilled hands of George's team. On Fridays, small groups are welcome to arrange a tour of the workshop in advance of their visit and discover the process involved in creating these beautiful instruments.

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