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The Gordons of Stoneyford,Co.Antrim-Violin Makers -by Michael Costello

Home | The restoration of the"Canadian"Gordon -Feb.`07 | The repatriation of the "Canadian"Gordon-August `06 | Hugh Gordon`s House | The Last Resting Place of Hugh Gordon ... | Information from the Simpson Family of Magheragall | Instrument details | The Reminiscences of Mr.James Crawford of Stoneyford | The moulds and templates of Hugh Gordon. | Fiddle music in Co.Antrim in the 1830`s

The repatriation of the "Canadian"Gordon-August `06

Grandpa Joe Donnelly with the Gordon in Canada

Colum Diamond in Kitchener ,Ontario takes custody

Michael Costello in Stoneyford with the prodigal !

The great violins of Antonio Stradivari ,Nicola Amati,Joseph Guarnerius and other Cremona gems are invariably given names or titles to denote their illustrious previous owners or places and occasions they were associated with.This practise is about to commence for the violins of Hugh Gordon ,beginning with the `Canadian Gordon` of 1835, now in the collection of the author in Belfast.
Sit back and enjoy the tale of this mysterious and well -travelled old Irish fiddle.

On the ninth of July(the day before my birthday)My daughter Eimhear and I decided to shorten a tedious sunday afternoon by visiting the grave of Hugh Gordon at Glenavy.While we were at the grave, Eimhear ,a budding fiddler,suggested plucking blades of grass off the grave and putting one inside each of our fiddles .She suggested with a mocking tone that this practise might make my playing sound a bit better! Being a rational man I complied with the child`s wishes and when we returned home I placed a blade of grass inside each of my 3 Gordon fiddles and Eimhear did likewise with her 3/4 sized fiddle.Running the bow over the strings, in a fit of enthusiasm, I noticed no audible difference in either the quality of tone from the fiddle or the standard of my playing.Abandoning my music I strayed to my laptop to check my emails and was intrigued to discover 2 emails responding to my Gordon website.One from a gentleman in England seeking a Simpson family connection he had spotted on my website and the other from the eccentric-sounding `GrandpaJoe`! Much to my astonishment Grandpa boasted of a genuine Hugh Gordon fiddle in his possession dated 1835 and offered it as a gift to enhance my collection as it badly needed restoration. The only problem was that Joe lived in Canada! at Windsor,Ontario.Needless to say a set of digital photos and details were sent,and before you could say ``Stoneyford``, arrangements had been agreed between Joe and myself, involving a hand-over to my cousin Colum Michael Diamond who lived a 5-hour drive from Joe and who agreed to meet him half way. Learning of his very Northern Irish surname I presumed that Joe was Irish himself but he tells me its more like third generation Irish.Not to be outdone I asked if his grandparents or great- grandparents had brought the fiddle out to Canada during the famine exodus but Joe told me that he had acquired  it in Canada.Colum ,back in Peterborough,Ontario quickly despatched the Gordon for the shamrock shore!
The battered old Gordon dated 1835 (number 24) was sadly impounded by her majesty`s Customs and Excise when it arrived and a kings ransom in V.A.T. had to be paid to liberate it from its callous captors due to Canada being outside the E.U.
The fiddle ,although far from being in good playing condition, was finally back in the land of its maker and after an exile that may have lasted as long as 171 years!
On thursday 17th August 2006 two carloads of excited  Irish musicians headed for Stoneyford ,Co.Antrim to offically repatriate the Gordon violin.Firstly the old Gordon farm was visited and as we stood pensively on the roadway ,I looked up the lane and imagined a little man in pre-Victorian garb walking happily down with his new fiddle under his arm.(In 1835 King William the 4th had just abolished slavery in the colonies and Victoria would not be Queen for two more years!)
We travelled on to Glenavy and Hugh Gordon`s resting place in St.Aidan`s church of Ireland.We prayed for a moment and then Frank Doherty,The distinguished Belfast fiddle player and octogenarian raised the old fiddle to his shoulder and as the rest of us fell back he stood by Gordon`s grave and gently coaxed the haunting strains of `The Bard of Armagh` and then `The Dear Irish Boy` from it .As Frank played ,a unique experience was enhanced by the arrival of a little robin ,which landed on the ivy-covered headstone! We  then symbolically placed the fiddle on the grave and  stood in silent reflection.If only it could have spoken and told its story!
Well may you  ask, "Does the story end there?".and the answer is a resounding "no!" for the bruised old Gordon is now in the skilful hands of none other than P.A.Boardman, Ireland`s internationally recognised leading violin maker and restorer ,and another king`s ransom may well be paid in restoring the Canadian Gordon to the best possible condition,in the name of integrity and artistic endeavour.When this is done detailed photographs will of course appear here and a sound file demonstrating the fiddle`s tone.WATCH THIS CYBERSPACE!!!
The pictures below were taken in St.Aidan`s ,Glenavy.

No caption needed......


Frank Doherty plays a graveside lament

All research on this site was carried out independently by Michael Costello between 1978 and 2005.All photos and information are the property of the author and may not be copied or reproduced without his permission.

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Please click here to visit the author`s poetry website- Dánta Dúnta