Tess Collins pictured in her shop in Castlebar with her son Thomas.

Tireless Tess Collins (86) is one of Ireland's oldest music store-owners

SALES of the versatile ukulele – an instrument particularly adored by youngsters – are booming at the moment. This is music to the ears of Tess Collins, Mayo’s oldest music store-owner, writes JEMIMA BURKE.

Tess runs the music store, open for 108 years, along with her son and local auctioneer Thomas. From Che Guevara guitar straps to egg-shaped Claddagh bodhrans, the store teems with a remarkable selection of musical items.

High up on the wall in the corner of the shop is an old violin. Thomas elaborated on its history: “It was handmade in Glasgow in 1919. I bought it at an auction and employed a Luthier (a repairer of old violins) to repair it completely.”

There is a history behind every instrument in the shop.

Some of Ireland’s most popular musicians have graced the doorway of the Collins’ store including Imelda May, Matt Molloy, The Chieftains and The Dubliners. Tess relates how Tommy Fleming bought “his first guitar and amplifier mic” in the shop. He presented Tess with flowers for her birthday at one of his concerts last year.

But it is the local community that matters most to the Collins family. That is why they are making plans to extend the shop.

As Thomas said: 'I’d like a wall of guitars, a wall of ukuleles, a wall of violins, a wall of melodeons, a wall of bodhrans. So when you walk in you can see the range from €70 up to €2,000, whether it’s a violin, a banjo, whatever the instrument.

Other ideas include hosting a weekly session every Saturday where local music teachers will be invited to come in, demonstrate how the instruments are played and offer a helping hand.

Also in the works are ‘evening events’ when local and not-so-local artists will be invited to provide the music. What Thomas and Tess envisage is refreshments in the corner, a relaxed, stress-free environment, and a time for “people of all ages to just relax and enjoy the experience.”

It’s clear that a grá for music flows in the veins as Thomas relates the family history.

His grandfather John Joseph Collins built a recording studio around the back of the shop when he first opened for business in 1908.

J.J. Collins also had his own radio programme broadcast from O’Connell Street in Dublin. Tess describes her brother-in-law, Kevin Collins, a traditional music composer, as an ‘absolutely brilliant’ violinist. It is a source of great pride that many of her grandchildren are continuing the tradition.

The Collinses do their bit to encourage music among the younger generation by sponsoring instruments and offering reductions in cost to schools.

The versatile ukulele is Collins’ bestselling instrument right now. Easy to learn and fun to play with a strong social side – students love it. There’s even a Dennis the Menace version on sale.

St. Gerald’s College TY Ukulele Orchestra strummed to great applause at the college’s Spring Recital earlier this year while two Castlebar girls, Amy Walsh and Sharon Redmond, from St. Joseph’s Secondary School won Best Group Project for their website The Ukulele People at the 2015 Eircom Junior Spider Awards.

This all goes to show there is a huge interest amongst youth nowadays in music. It augurs well for the future of tireless Tess and her thriving business.