By Seán Andrews
The ukulele looks like a miniature guitar, boasts a cheerful, invigorating sound and has been the subject of a recent explosion of interest in Ireland. It’s cheap, easy to play and is so portable you can carry it around under your arm.
Numerous groups right across the country are getting together, having the ‘craic’ and creating their own entertainment with this versatile little instrument. It takes only an hour or two to learn a few basic chords and join in singing everything from those golden oldies to modern pop songs.
There are at least six ukulele enthusiast groups in the Dublin area alone who meet regularly to learn a few songs and enjoy the musical camaraderie. The Ukulele Hooley by the Sea is a two-day international festival, held annually in Dún Laoghaire during the month of August. It features workshops and performances by expert players and groups from all over Ireland and abroad.
Schools are now taking an interest, as the ukulele’s low cost and simplicity, makes it the ideal instrument with which to introduce children to the joys of music and song.
Most of us associate the ukulele with Hawaii, but its origin is European. It was introduced to the pacific islands by Portuguese immigrants in the 19th century in the form of the machete, a small guitar like instrument.
The Hawaiian islanders had not seen anything like it before and were fascinated as they watched expert players nimbly negotiating the fingerboard and producing lively song accompaniments. So they called the instrument ‘ukulele’ or dancing flea!