Johnny is a man with many strings to his bow

Claire Tennyson


Claire Tennyson

HE is the fourth generation of violin maker in his family so you could say Johnny Murphy knows a thing or two about the wooden, stringed instrument.

The 35-year-old has been running Braid River Violins on Princes Street for five years.

After learning the trade from his uncle Jim McNeill, Johnny was destined to become an expert in both craftsmanship and as a musician.

He started learning how to make violins aged 12 alongside playing traditional music.

Speaking to the Ballymena Guardian he said the music and creation of violins is in his blood.

"I am the fourth generation of my family to be making violins.

“My relatives before me didn't have their own shop but back then they would have been known as garden shed men.

Family of craftsmen

“My great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather were both headmaster craftsmen in Harland and Wolff so its been in the family for many, many years.

"I suppose I took it to the next step and created a business out of it."

Johnny's talent for playing the fiddle was also well-known across the country as he spent six years touring with Irish Dancing shows.

"I travelled the world with Lord of the Dance, Rhythm of the Dance and a few others so people would have known me for playing the instrument.

"I also done a lot of gigs around the country," Johnny explained.

"When I came home from the shows I decided to get back into making the violins and then I eventually opened up the shop.

"I also teach the fiddle upstairs and have over 80 students coming every week from all over Northern Ireland.

“I suppose that’s why people come to me to get violins made because I have an ear for music as well as making the instrument from scratch.”

Johnny, who is a father of two, said he hopes his craft is passed on to one of his children.

"I have a lot of trade secrets which were given to me by my uncle so it would be a shame for that to be lost but we will have to wait and see what their interests are.

"When I returned from the shows and started back into making violins I was unsure but now I absolutely love it.

“It went hand in hand with the natural progression of what I had been doing for many years of playing the violin.”

Making a violin from start to finish can take Johnny up to six months and can cost in the region of £300 to £4,500.

Johnny knocks the wood straight out of the trunk as opposed to getting ready prepared wood.

“I literally make the violin from scratch, it takes a lot of time to get it exactly right and ready for someone to take home.

“You could say I have many late nights in the workshop.,” Johnny said.

"Many children come into the workshop who have started playing to pick their fiddle.

"They need to try them out and see what suits them.

“Everyone is different and I would be open to them bringing them back to me if they didn't think it was right for them."

Johnny is one of a handful of people in Northern Ireland who make violins.

Johnny’s skill of creating beautifully handcrafted musical instruments would be viewed by many as an art.

Johnny concluded: “Initially it takes time and patience and learning how to use all the hand tools to create a violin.

“Even after all the years I’ve been making them there’s always something to learn or develop.

“Like every craftsperson we’re always striving for perfection every time.”

Braid River Violins is located at 50 Princes Street and you can also find them on Facebook.

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