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

Gordon of Stoneyford Violin Maker (Nova print)
Available now(limited edition)
Postal orders will be taken via this website and the book costs 8 sterling plus postage which I will quote before payment
FOR LOCAL ORDERS IN Belfast/Lisburn/Glenavy/Crumlin  area ring Michael on 07518631378

Michael Costello will give a lecture on the life of Hugh Gordon to the Randalstown Historical Society ,County Antrim on 07//04/11 Venue-The Arches House,Main St.
Several of Hugh Gordon`s violins will be on display and will be played at the lecture.

I would like to thank the following people for their assistance in compiling this Biography of Gordon of Stoneyford.
Mr.& Mrs.P.Cushnahan of Lower Ballymacward ,Stoneyford who now own the land which was Gordons and who opened quite a few doors for me...
Mr.& Mrs.Wm.Simpson of Magheragall,who kindly gave me access to valuable information amongst other things.
The family of the late James Crawford of Tullynewbank road,Stoneyford.
Mr.Joe Andrews of Ballymacward.
Peter Boardman, LUTHIER ,of Donaghadee,Co.Down.
Chad Koelmeyer,Davy Rice and anyone else i`ve forgotten!
The author can be contacted by Email at-


Click to visit Peter Boardman Violins- Donaghadee,Co.Down.

The Original Gatepillars of Hugh Gordon`s farm at

The Author playing a Gordon violin
outside the remains of the Gordon Homestead

Made by Hugh Gordon circa 1840

By Michael Costello

Hugh Gordon  was born in Ballymacward,Stoneyford,Co.Antrim in  1794 and his family had been established farmers in that area since at least 1700.The 1728 Hertford Estate Rent Roll names three Gordons-John Gordon ,Derriaghy,Robert Gordon ,Blaris,and Sarah Gordon,Magheragall.The list of landholders for 1844 and 1845 paying parochial rates in Lower Ballymacward includes The Widow Gordon(Hugh`s mother),Hugh Gordon himself and wife Sarah Hood .There is a headstone in the ancient Tullyrusk Cemetery(a short distance from Gordon`s land) enscribed `John Gordon, Ballymacward ,10/11/1824`. This was Hugh`s father.In addition the Griffith Valuation return for the area done in 1864,ten years after Hugh had died, lists his widow Sarah Gordon as the occupier of 26 acres let by the Marquis of Hertford,in lower Ballymacward. Hugh was obviously a highly intelligent and talented man and became a farmer with a reputation as a bit of an inventor, with a natural bent towards all things mechanical.His love of music led him to show a great interest in the  strong tradition of Ulster Scots fiddle music in the South Antrim area which was frequently performed in the open air,particularly at fairs,markets and other social gatherings  in neighbouring towns and  villages such as Antrim,Crumlin,Glenavy,Lisburn,Ballyclare,Moira,Lurgan and of course, Belfast.
The young Hugh Gordon became intrigued by the violin and all types of fiddle music.He started making violins in the 1820`s,using local pine and sycamore and making many of his own tools,templates and patterns based on the designs of Stradivari and the other great violin makers.Some of his moulds are in the possession of the well known violin maker P.A. Boardman of Donagadee, Co.Down.Gordon visited other violin makers,notably Frank Jervis and Hugh Brown of Belfast and was known to have at least 2 violin-making pupils,John Simpson of Magheragall and Edward Sayers of Belfast,whose brother,Rev.William Sayers was curate of Stoneyford Parish(Cof I.)from 1849-1855.Gordon ,of course,taught his two sons James and Hugh to make fiddles.It is believed that Hugh Gordon snr. worked in Belfast for a time in the 1820`s,where he may have learned his violin making skills.One violin seen is labelled `Belfast 1825`.
Hugh Gordon could read and write music very well and I have examined an old music manuscript book belonging to Mr.Wm.Simpson of Magheragall,a townland close to Stoneyford,in which Hugh Gordon wrote out several tunes for Mr.John Simpson(the grandfather of Mr.Wm.) ,his friend and dedicated them to him.There are Sentiments expressed in this book concerning friends and neighbours of Gordon in Ballymacward including Robert Adams and Richard Hood,a local school-master, who would have enjoyed,no doubt,listening to our hero play in the evenings after the day`s work was done .Hugh Gordon snr. did not make a great number of violins,perhaps fifty at most,but his work,although that of an amateur,is highly regarded by those who have played and owned them.His details are recorded in a number of Dictionaries of  violin -Maker,including William Henley`s and Dennis Plowright`s.The late Father Greaven,a priest,in St.Paul`s Parish in Belfast also gave Gordon a mention in his booklet on Irish Violin Makers ( M.H.Gill & Son Ltd,Dublin,1911).
Hugh Gordon died in April 1854 aged 60  and is buried in Glenavy parish of St.Aidan`s Church of Ireland. 
Hugh Gordon`s passion for violin making was also taken up by his sons Hugh ,who moved to Belfast  after his mother`s death in 1887 and James who remained at home,after his father`s death,living in the area untill the late 1920`s.Hugh Gordon also had two daughters-Eliza Ann and Mary Jane(Scott),as well as a son William who died in infancy.
Hugh Gordon junior worked as a maker and repairer with his father in Stoneyford from an early age.When his father died in 1854 Hugh was about twenty years of age and he set about completing the unfinished and unsold violins his father had left behind.He labelled several violins as his father`s work but completed by himself.He later moved to live in Belfast where he worked as a sub postmaster and also made and repaired violins from 42 Newtownards Road.He labelled some of his violins as `made by Hugh Gordon` and occasionally as `Made by the son of the late Hugh Gordon of Stoneyford`.He sometimes stamped his violins `Gordon` on or below the button and sometimes did not.The last label I have seen with his name on it was dated 1921 when he must have been quite old.

Back of above instrument


button & stamp

The  violin illustrated here is from the personal collection of the author.

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