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RESEARCH - Archie Cuckoo, Fiddler of Fiddlers

Wed, 02 Nov 2022

Archie Cuckoo, Fiddler of Fiddlers.

by Maurice Powell

This article was prompted by the news that a violin, thought to have belonged to Archie Cuckoo, one of the most colourful street musicians in Douglas during the mid-nineteenth century, had returned to the Island to find a home in the Manx Museum.*

* The violin in question is in fact not old enough to be Archie Cuckoo’s own instrument, but belonged to Richard Cain OBE MHK, the grandfather of the donor. Information from Katie King, Manx National Heritage.

Next to nothing is known about the life of Archie Cuckoo, real name Archibald Collins, the son of ‘Collins the bruiser’, except through brief references to him in the local newspapers and scant few official documents. These glimpses of his life tell us that he was a ‘well-known character in the history of Douglas’, and a street fiddler renowned for his ‘magic touch on the violin (which) cheered the heart and exercised the legs of many a swain alike, in country hamlet and in town tavern in byegone days’. It was said that even Paganini could not have made the fiddle speak like Archie Cuckoo.

He was born in Ireland around 1817, and in February 1843 married Catherine McBray, also from Ireland.  The 1851 Census reveals that Archie and Catherine and a daughter Mary Anne were living at number 5 Water Lane, Douglas, one of the ‘slumming parts of Douglas . . . with their utter want of sanitary methods’, according to J. A. Brown, and nearby ‘Little Ireland’ which was known locally as ‘Little Hell’.*