Old News

One great advantage of undertaking research in the nineteenth century is the increasing amount of surviving source material, especially among the newspaper archives. Due to the wide distribution of many copies, these tend to have more intact runs than any other source, but the major drawback is that the inclusion of relevant material has a higher level of unpredictability than most other record sources. However, when suitable material does appear it can often open a wider social history than just the bare facts given by Church, State and other archives. This of course does not always mean that the early newspaper accounts are any more accurate than their modern equivalents, although they can still be useful as social histories. For example, the very first item from the US Gazette, which presumably is actually referring to Dennis Hempson, has obviously become somewhat confused in its journey to America, but still demonstrates the continuing interest there for information from the other side of the water.

Adverts are particularly useful as they tend to be basically factual, although they can still raise new questions. Who was the 'Young Carolan' performing in Dublin in 1832, and the celebrated Irish Harper Quinn also performing in Dublin during the early 1840's. These advertisements for harpers performing in hotels tend to be repeated so have only been noted on the first appearance, or if there is a change in the description. The transcriptions follow the original punctuation and spelling although where there has been an obvious typographical error, upside down 'n's being the most common, these have been silently corrected.

Old News Items

Newspaper announcements and advertisements from the 19th century

Gazette of the United States (Philadelphia, PA)

Tuesday, December 25, 1804
Issue 350

The last of the Irish Bards, named Hennesy, a venerable old seer, above 70, resides at Dundalk in the north of Ireland. He is blind; and though confined to his cottage by feebleness, he is visited by all the musical amateurs who come to that part of the country, attracted by the fame of his performances upon the old national instrument, the Irish Harp, upon which he is justly esteemed as the Orpheus of the country. He has subsisted for many years upon the generosity of his occasional visitants; and it is somewhat singular, that in an age so eminent for eliciting talents from obscurity, this extraordinary man, the last of his order, and perhaps the first of his profession in the world, should never have been brought forth to light for the amusement of the musical world.

Freeman’s Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser, (Dublin, Ireland)

Thursday, March 30, 1820

147, Capel–Street,
(Opposite Abbey–Street.)


MOST respectfully begs leave to return his grateful thanks to his Friends and the Public for their former support, and to inform them, that he has, at considerable expense, engaged

The celebrated Bangor Welch Harper

Whose exquisite performance on that Instrument, is too well known to require comment. He will arrive from Wales, at the Struggler Tavern, on Friday, commence performing on Monday Evening, and continue every Night from 7 till 12 o'Clock. MURPHY, that much–esteemed Connaught Piper, also plays in a spacious room fitted up for the purpose.

Freeman’s Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser, (Dublin, Ireland)

Thursday, April 5, 1821

A HARPER of Character and ability will hear of an Engagement by applying at the Usquebaugh Distillery, No. 1, Audeon’s Arch.

Belfast News–Letter (Belfast, Ireland)

Tuesday, April 15, 1828


The following extract is from a Calcutta News–paper, the Bengal Hurkaru. It is concluded with the annual list of India subscribers to the Irish Harp Society, too numerous for Insertion in our paper of today. In copying these paragraphs, we convey to our readers the patriotic and generous feelings of the friends of Irish music, and of the blind, helpless, and without the support of the India fund, otherwise destitute pupils of the Harp Society. We do not refuse our tribute of commendation to the exertions of the Committee here, who so carefully superintend the establishment, and so well manage the funds committed to their care. Those friends, in Ireland, are not, perhaps, enabled to contend, in the race of generosity, with the more efficient patrons in India. There is something, too, in the distance and absence from their native land of those munificent persons, equally distinguished by their liberality and constancy—something in the warm recollection of the green fields of their infancy, and the strains that come o’er their ears, even in India, the amusement and solace of their youth in Ireland, and to which they may yet return in their years of maturity—there is something in all this to associate ideas, and stimulate to more than the indulgence of ancient feelings- to active and well-directed bounty, which, while it preserves and disseminates the music of Ireland, forms also a plan of employment for the blind, and a school of future minstrelsy. While we give this praise where it is eminently due, we express our hopes that the late arrangements of the committee here will be successful, in the collection of subscriptions for the same charitable purpose at home, as Mr. Rainey is now instructed to proceed on this errand. We point, therefore, the attention of the Irish public to the extracts which we now give from the Bengal Hurkaru.

portrait of V. Rainey

V. Rainey, teacher of the harp in Belfast. Image from The Ulster Journal of Archaeology, Vol 7 (1901)

We are indebted to the India Gazette of last week, for the following proceedings of the Irish Harp Society which press of other matter prevented our publishing at the time:we do so now with much pleasure, and, we trust, our contemporary's appeal to the liberality and patriotism of all Hibernians, to which we beg to add our recommendation, will not be in vain.

Our contemporary observes that, in consequence of the absence of the corresponding member, we have not had an opportunity of bringing the proceedings of this interesting Society before the public for some time. We can confidently assure the friends and benevolent supporters of the patriotic and humane establishment, that the prosperity of the Institution has never for a moment been forgotten or unattended to. The contributors, by all accounts, have now the satisfaction of knowing, that they have effectually restored the ancient melodies, the nearly lost airs of the Emerald Isle, by the encouragement given by them to the long–neglected and forgotten Harper.

Already do we find their bewitching performances held out in public advertisements as allurements to the gay assemblies of mirth and beauty, to the convivial meetings of patriots and sages. Nothing, we understand, can exceed the efficiency of this little establishment,–the attentions of the Trustees and members of the Committee are unremitting and praiseworthy. Pupils are recommended and received from all parts of Ireland, so that the object of the institution may be more generally experienced. A gentleman, who came out a short time ago, assures us of his having gone to Belfast from Dublin in order to satisfy himself fully on all points connected with the institution in which he had from the commencement taken a lively interest. The establishment was found to be economical and efficient. The pupils were plain and comfortably clothed. Never can he forget, he says, his sensations on hearing the scholars go through, in masterly style, some of the most sublime native Irish pieces. But when Rainey, the inimitable Rainey, the head master of the institution, enthusiastically swept the chords, or plaintively dwelt in simple melody on Erin's devoted heroes of mouldering halls—ages since gone by, scenes of festive hospitality and of faithful love, known to us but in song under the magic spell—he boasted, in the honest pride of his heart, of his connection with that country to which Ireland was so deeply indebted for the revival of her Harp, and for the relief of her suffering poor in the days of sickness and wide-extended deep distress.

In the India list of subscribers, we cannot help noticing here, the name of that munificent nobleman, the late Marquis Hastings, and of others of our patriotic countrymen. Among those subscribers are;–

His Excellency the Marquis Hastings, &c. &co £31 10 0
The Hon. Sir Francis M’Naghten 12 12 0
Major–General Sir Chas. Stewart 12 12 0
Lieut–Col. W. Casement, C. B 12 12 0
Lieut–Col. Paris Bradshaw 12 12 0
Wm. Hall, Esq. 12 12 0
Henry Alexander, Esq 12 12 0
A. J. M’Can, Esq. 12 12 0
J. Williamson Fulton, Esq 12 12 0

The Society is to none more deeply indebted than to Browne Roberts, Esq. corresponding member of the Bengal Committee. It is indeed to the zealous and unremitting exertions of this Gentleman, that the India contributions have been so regularly collected and remitted. An acknowledgement is also due here to our resident countryman, the Marquis of Downshire, who, with his usual characteristic patriotism, in the encouragement of every thing useful and liberal, has, unsollicited, contributed the annual subscription of ten pounds, and, at the same time, expressed his high approbation, from a personal inspection, of the manner in which the Institution is conducted.

Belfast News–Letter (Belfast, Ireland)

Tuesday, June 22, 1830

At a MEETING of the IRISH HARP SOCIETY on the 17th of June, 1830,
WILLIAM TENNENT, Esq. in the Chair

It was Resolved, that the Pupil, MATHEW WALL, originally recommended by BROWN ROBERTS, Esq. be permited to accept of an offer made by Mr. M–CANNAN, of St John’s, New Brunswick, to give him a free passage from Belfast to that place, and to settle him there as a Harper.

It was further Resolved that a Harp be given to MAT WALL, with additional Wire for Strings; and that he be also supplied, previous to his leaving Ireland, with necessary clothing.

The Society in this instance depart from a standing rule, by granting the whole of those things without pecuniary aid from the friends of the Pupil. They are induced to do so from their great respect for Mr. ROBERTS, now absent form Ireland, but whose services in India to the Irish Harp Society have been so useful in furthering its efforts, as well for the preservation of Irish music, as for the musical instruction of the youthful blind and desolate.

In lamenting the death of their early and zealous Patron the late JOHN WILLIAMSON FULTON, Esq. the Society are in some measure consoled by reflecting that his example has been followed by the Friends of the Society both here and in India; and they earnestly hope that the protecting favour shewn to the Irish Harp and its young professors, proceeding as it does from patriotic and humane feelings will not be relaxed where the patronage is so useful.
W. TENNENT, Chairman
JOHN M'ADAM, Secretary

Belfast News–Letter (Belfast, Ireland)

Friday, October 8, 1830

3, Corn-Market, Belfast.

RETURNS his sincere thanks to his Friends and Public, for the liberal encouragement he has received since his commencement in business, and begs to acquaint them that he has fitted up a large HARP ROOM, and has engaged a first rate Harper at a considerable expense.

Freeman’s Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser, (Dublin, Ireland)

Wednesday, November 5, 1830


YES, they are during the time of regaling themselves at BERNARD MULVANY’S Ship Tavern, No. 5, LOWER ABBEY-STREET, opposite the Hibernian Academy, where attention, moderation of prices are particularly attended to.

B.M. assures every gentlemen giving him a preference, that nothing shall be left undone, that can be done, to render his establishment equal – if not superior – to any other house in the same line. The celebrated Irish Harper, from Belfast, performs every evening at seven o’clock, when the admirers of National Airs will be highly entertained.

N.B. Billiard Rooms – Cigar ditto, fitted out in good style, Comfortable Bed Rooms, at 1s. per night.

Freeman’s Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser, (Dublin, Ireland)

Tuesday, December 11, 1832


RESPECTFULLY intimates to the Citizens of Dublin that the period of the Tyrolese Minstrels’ engagement will close on Saturday next, as their engagement in London during the Christmas holidays, will prevent their stay being prolonged.

G.H. avails himself of this opportunity of returning his sincere thanks for the extended patronage received; and a continuance he trusts will enable him to bring forward native talent in whatever shape offered in the Musical Profession – he is therefore ready to enter into treaty with persons duly qualified, as Solo, Glee Singers, or Musicians.

The Young Harper, from the Belfast Harp Society, will play his national airs, and on the Irish Harp.
Admission One Shilling, for which a Ticket is given which passes for same amount in room.

Freeman’s Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser, (Dublin, Ireland)

Monday, December 17, 1832

Repeat adverts for the Tyrolese Minstrels but with the last part change to;–

YOUNG CAROLAN performs on the Irish Harp this week in the SHADES, College Green.

Belfast News–Letter (Belfast, Ireland)

April 9, 1833


We observe, from the Limerick papers, that Mr. Rennie, the distinguished Professor of the Irish Harp, has been performing in that city with universal applause. In consequence of the ravages of the Cholera in Limerick, a great number of children were left completely destitute, and, in order to provide for thier support, a charitable association was formed under the designation of ‘St. Patrick’s Orphan Society’. This philanthropic institution is supported by persons of all religious persuasions, and amongst its most active friends we observe the name of Mr. J. Keith mentioned—a gentleman who is not unknown in the North. The funds of the charity are likewise applied in the most liberal manner without reference to religious distinctions—the Protestant, the Presbyterian, and the R. Catholic orphan are equally provided for. The funds having been exhausted, or nearly so, the superuntendents of the charity resolved on having a concert for its benefit, and for this purpose they specially engaged Mr. Rennie to attend it with two of his pupils—it having been found impossible to procure a person adequately skilled in the use of our national instrument in any other quarter than Belfast. On this circumstance we are entitled to look with an excusable vanity, not a little flattering to the character and spirit of our good town, which has been the means of preserving the knowledge of an instrument the very form of which would otherwise have been at the present time a subject of doubtful historical disquisition, as Hardiman more than once remarks in his Irish Minstrelsy, while ‘the cold chain of silence had hung over it’ perhaps for ever.

Belfast Harp Society House

House of the Belfast Harp Society, Cromac Street, Belfast. Image from The Ulster Journal of Archaeology, Vol 7 (1901)

On Monday, the 18th ult., the Members of the Society had a splendid dinner in the Commercial Buildings, Limerick, at which J. Keith, Esq., presided, and John Boyse and Alan F. O’Neill, Esqrs. acted as Vice–Presidents. On this occasion Mr. Rennie attended, and, to use the words of the Limerick Journalist, ‘thrilled every heart alive to the remembrance of the days of old’. Large donations were given in aid of the funds of the Charity by the company, which comprised a great proportion of the rank and respectability of the city. On the following Thursday, the 21st, the grand Concert was given in Swinburne’s Great Rooms, which were so completely filled that numbers had to go away from inability to gain admittance. On this occasion the Limerick Journalist speaks in absolutely enthusiastic terms of ‘the powerful and heart touching execution of Mr. Rennie and his pupils’. ‘Beneath the witchery of his touch’ says he, ‘our ancient instrument has revived its claims upon the sympathies and nationality of our country, its dulcet notes vibrating from every chord, and dying melodiously in the distance, fill the soul with the tenderest recollections, while the forte of its bolder efforts fires the heart with a glowing admiration of that love of glory with which the harp of old inspired heroes and patriots’. On the following Monday, Mr. Rennie gave a voluntary concert, the proceeds of which were to be applied in liquidation of a debt contracted by the superintendents of a religious charity in Limerick. – Mr. R. was obliged to leave Limerick almost immediately after, in consequence of the sudden death, in Belfast, of his youngest child, Robert James, and the dangerous illness of another.

The eloquent and glowing description which Giraldus Cambrensis gave of Irish music in the 12th century, is known to every scholar, and Cambrensis was certainly no friend to the ‘meri Hiberni’ This description has been so often quoted that we need not repeat it—we content ourselves with observing, that whoever forms to himself an idea of the harp from the discordant, meagre tinkling of the ordinary race of harpers, will do great injustice to the instrument, and will wonder not without reason, at the taste of our ancestors, to whose banquets, even in ‘Tara’s hall’. the aged bard, hanging in rapture over his ‘ceol cruit mhilis’, was an indispensable accompaniment. In order to judge of the power and variety of musical expression of which the harp is susceptible, from the melting, dying, and scarcely audible murmurings of Phrygian tenderness to the wildest moods of military fierceness, the performances of Mr. Rennie must be heard. To those who can feel the sympathies of deep and pure melody, and the associations which it brings warm over the human heart, the description of the spirit formed of music and light in the Oriental Romance, will not seem overcharged in relation to the harp of Ireland—

‘——Mine is the lay that lightly floats,
And mine are the murmuring, dying notes,
That fall as soft as snow on the sea,
And melt in the heart as instantly!
And the passionate strain that, deeply going,
Refines the bosom it trembles through,
As the musk wind over the water blowing,
Ruffles the wave, but sweetens it too!’

Seal of Belfast Harp Society

Seal of Belfast Harp Society.
Image from The Ulster Journal of Archaeology, Vol 7 (1901)

Mr. D’Alton, in his erudite Essay on the Ancient History, Learning, &c. of Ireland, published in the Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy, has quoted a most curious passage from Diodorus Siculus relative to the astronomical acquirements, the Sun worship of the ancient Irish, and especially their ‘singular temples of round form’, which were dedicated to the servioce of that Deity. Diodorus Siculus further observes, that ‘most of the citizens are harpers, who, striking their harps in the temple, sing sacred hymns to the god, in which his actions are proclaimed with suitable honour’. Diodorus, according to Dupin,* lived in the time of Julius Caesar and Augustus, and the authority which he cites for his description is that of Hecatacus, of which name there were two, Hecataeus of Abdera, who was contemporary with Alexander the Great, and Hecataeus the Milesian, who lived according to Suidas, in the 65th Olympiad, or about 480 years before the Christian era—in either case, the antiquity is tolerably respectable, and such as, perhaps, no other nation can boast. It may also be mentioned, as a matter of some curiosity, that Buchanan makes an Irish Harper to be, in the second century, an indispensable attendant upon the kings and nobles of Scotland, and privileged to sleep even in their own chambers. It is to this circumstance that he attributes the death of Ethodius who having caused a relative of his harper to be killed, was himself killed in the night by the minstrel in revenge..

*Bibliotheque Universele des Auteurs, IX. Liv. I.

um de more procerum Scotorum, fidicinem ex Hibernia in cubiculo suo pernoctantem haberet, ab co noctu occisus fuit, in ultionem, &c.– Rerum Scotic. Lib. 4.

NEW HARP.—We, yesterday, at the rooms of the Belfast Harp Society, inspected a new Harp, of elegant workmanship, which has been constructed by an ingenious mechanic named Thomas Gowdy, who, we believe, resides in the neighbourhood of Smithfield. This Harp has been made for a gentleman near Belfast, and it is certainly a most creditable specimen of the skill of a Belfast Artist. In appearance it is elegant, and highly finished, while its intonation is full and rich, and equals in power that of the best instruments of the best Dublin or other Artists. The public ought to encourage the poor man by whom it has been constructed, as his mechanical genius is evidently of a very high order.

Belfast News–Letter (Belfast, Ireland)

Friday, October 10, 1834, Issue 10155

IRISH HARP — There is now in this city, a young man, a pupil of the Irish Harp Society of Belfast, Mr. Fraser, whose performances on that national instrument exceed all displays of the kind which we have hitherto witnessed. He has proved to us a power in the harp which, hitherto, we did not suppose it to possess. There is a brilliancy, and, at the same time, a delicacy, in his style, which, we think, unrivalled. —Derry Journal.

Belfast News–Letter (Belfast, Ireland)

Friday, October 30, 1835

We have been called upon by Mr. Rennie, of the Irish Harp Society, to disabuse the public mind, by disavowing any connection, professionally or otherwise, with a person now in this town collecting money under pretence that it is to be applied for the purchase of a harp.

Belfast News–Letter (Belfast, Ireland)

Tuesday, September 26, 1837


On Saturday morning last, at the age of 42 years, Mr. V. Rennie, the celebrated Professor of the Irish Harp, expired, after a lingering illness, at the Harp Society ’s House in Cromac–street. In consequence of the decease of this truly distinguished performer, the race of the ancient minstrels of Erin may almost be said to have become extinct, since it is to be feared that amongst his numerous pupils there is scarcely to be found one who, in all the departments of musical excellence, can approach to the attainments of Rennie himself.

Valentine Rennie was a native of the romantic village of Cushendall, in the County of Antrim, and by his father’s side was second cousin to Robert Burns, the Ayrshire poet. His taste for music seems to have been innate, as at the early age of eleven years he was able to execute upon the violin the melodies of his native country with such sweetness and power as to excite universal admiration, though he was almost blind, and had no opportunity of acquiring scientific instruction. His great passion, however, was for the Irish Harp and in this respect he was soon gratified through the exertions of our worthy townsman Dr. M’Donnell, who had been forcibly struck by his extraordinary genius, and who interested the Irish Harp Society in his behalf. He was consequently placed under the care of Arthur O’Neill, who at that time had charge of the Society’s pupils, and such was his proficiency, that in the course of a few years he far surpassed his venerable preceptor, who was generally regarded as the most accomplished performer of his day upon the national instrument of Ireland. For some years Mr. Rennie resided in Dublin, where his exquisite taste and unrivalled execution were the theme of universal admiration, so that on the visit of Geo. IV. to this country he was selected to perform in his presence in the character and appropriate costume of an ancient Bard of Erin. So well established and so extensive was his fame, that a Society of Irishmen resident in the East Indies had fixed upon him to go out to that country on liberal terms, for the purpose of introducing the Irish Harp into the East; but this flattering offer he ultimately declined, preferring to remain in his native country, and on the decease of his former preceptor he was appointed to the Professorship of the harp in connexion with the Society in this town—a situation which he filled up to the period of his death. In addition to the numerous friends by whom his early removal will long be regretted, he has left a widow and an only son—a boy aged six years and six months. His funeral took place yesterday morning, and was most numerously, as well as respectably attended. He was interred in Friar’s Bush burying ground.

In private life, Mr. Rennie was distinguished for amiability of manners, benevolence of disposition, and genuine warmth of heart. Conscientiously attached to his own opinions on political and religous subjects, he disdained that mock liberality which is tolerant only to its own co–believers—on the contrary, he cheerfully extended to others that charity which he sought in return, while in matters involving principle he was actuated by the most unyielding independence. Considering the disadvantages under which he laboured from defective sight, he had amassed an astonishing fund of information on general subjects, and his stores of anecdote were exhaustless. No individual, whatever might be his party, could long be acquainted with Rennie without being delighted with his excellent qualities as a man, as well as his genius as a musician. By his death the Harp Society have sustained a severe loss, and the National Ministrelsy of Ireland has been deprived of one of its brightest ornaments, whose genius had not only contributed to preserve it from utter extinction, but to revive in great measure its ancient glories, which must otherwise have been lost in the silence and desolation of ‘Tara’s Hall’.

The Bristol Mercury (Bristol, England)

Saturday, March 27, 1841


Will Offer For Sale
On the Premises, at the PRIORY in Chewton aforsaid
on TUESDAY, the 6th day of April, 1841, and
following days,

The whole of the Modern and Valuable FURNITURE, Indian and Parisian, CABINETS, PAINTINGS, Indian and Dresden Porcelain Jars, Vases, &c. Valuable Time–Pieces, Piano–Fortes, Irish Harp, Phaeton and Gig, Cob Pony and Harness, One excellent Dairy Cow, and other valuable Effects, the property of E. B. Lamont, Esq, removing to a distant country; comprising In the DRAWING ROOM, a handsome and nearly new Brussels carpet, 23ft. 9in, by 15ft. 10in; excellent Angola fleece rug, 7ft. by 3ft; 2 suits of chintz window curtains and drapery, with the appendages; a fine toned 6–octave grand piano–forte, and a cabinet piano–forte, by Broadwood & Sons; Irish Harp,...

The Manchester Times and Gazette, (Manchester, England)

Saturday, January 22, 1842

THE IRISH HARP—TEMPERANCE,– A delightful suggestion has been made, at a recent festival of the ‘Drogheda New Total Abstinence Society’ by its president, the Rev. T. V. Burke, to promote the revival of the Irish harp, by means of the musical bands established by the temperance societies. He stated that some young men in Drogheda had already succeeded in making a harp, which was considered a well-toned, excellent, instrument, and that he expected they would have at least a dozen ready before their next festival. This is an admirable example for other societies. The very effort for such an object is highly honourable to the rev. gentleman and the members of his society, and its success will confer exquisite pleasure and inestimable benefit on the community. The impulse given of late years to the study and collection of Irish music will be thus greatly aided. Dublin Pilot.

Freeman’s Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser, (Dublin, Ireland)

Saturday, March 5, 1842

RETURNS her most grateful thanks to the Gentlemen, her numerous Friends, and the Public in general for the kind patronage she has received from them and she trusts by strict attention to merit continuance of past favours.

Gentlemen will find it their interest to stop at this Hotel, it being not three minutes walk from the Coach Office, from whence Coaches go to all parts of Ireland. Breakfasts to be had from Six o’Clock in the Morning. Soups and Coffee to be had all hours. Soups sent out to order. Mr. Quin, the celebrated Irish Harper, performs every Evening.

John Bull, (London, England)

Saturday, December 9, 1843

Report on the crowds in Limerick attending the accession of Mr W. S. O’Brien to the cause of Repeal;–

‘there were no carriages, except one occupied by a blind Irish Harper who performed national airs inaudible to everyone save his driver’.

Freeman’s Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser, (Dublin, Ireland)

Tuesday, January 21, 1845


Very large advert extolling its virtues including at the end; –
QUINN, the celebrated Irish Harper, performs every evening, Sunday excepted.

Freeman’s Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser, (Dublin, Ireland)

Wednesday, July 28, 1847

Small Silver Medal

Mr. Patrick O’Neill, Bricklayer, 50 Bishop St—For an Irish Harp capable of being transposed and played in the major keys of C G D A without tuning.

The Illustrated London News, (London, England)

October 11, 1856. page 371

Portrait of Patrick Byrne

Portrait of Patrick Byrne, harper

Byrne text from the Illustrated London News

For readers linking here from the Patrick Byrne Biography use this link to return to where you left it.

To link to the beginning of the Patrick Byrne Biography please use this link.

Freeman’s Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser, (Dublin, Ireland)

Wednesday, January 15, 1862


J. Cunningham begs to return his sincere thanks to his Customers and those who have supported him since his commencement in business, and trusts by the same attention which he has shown to the comfort and accommodation of all parties, together with that moderate scale of charges for which his Establishment is remarkable, to insure a continuance of their kind patronage. Hot Joints for Lunches from One to Four o’Clock. Dinners from Five to Seven o’Clock, of Roast and Boiled Joints at 1s 6d. beef Steaks, kidneys, Chops and Soups, at a moment’s notice. Wild Fowl and Shell Fish as in season.

A celebrated Irish Harper performs every evening from Seven o’Clock, this being the only house where an Irish Harper performing. All the leading Journals taken in. Bed, is per night. Two first–class Billiard Tables attached. A reduction has been made on all Drinks, &c.

Freeman’s Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser, (Dublin, Ireland)

Thursday, April 24, 1879

From this date a series of adverts started to appear in this paper giving notification on behalf of Herr Adolf Sjoden, the visiting pedal harpist that an IRISH HARP REVIVAL FESTIVAL was going to be held in the Rotunda, Dublin on the 6th, 8th and 10th of May and that it would include a ‘Trio of Ancient Irish Harps strung with wire’.

clipping from the April 24 advert for the Irish Harp Revival Festival

By the Saturday 3rd may, the initial advertisement had been expanded into a full programme which apart from the 'Trio of Ancient Irish Wire-Strung Harps' was also going to include 'Irish Airs played on the Ancient Irish Wirestrung Harp by an Irish Harper', as well as 'One of the last surviving of the celebrated Blind Irish Harpers will play on the Ancient Irish Harp, strung with wire'. Celebrated Irish Pipers will also perform in the interval on the Union Pipes'. (Please click on the image below to see a pdf file of the full announcement)

May 3 advert and program for the Irish Harp Revival Festival

Following the first concert on Wednesday May 7, the newspaper carried a long review entitled 'IRISH HARP REVIVAL FESTIVAL' which included the following specific comments;-

In the interval between the first and second parts there was a performance by Mr. O'Flaherty, an Irish piper and by an Irish harpist, who played on a wire-strung instrument'.

Further on the reviewer also added that;- 'We did not particularly care for the selection played on the three wire-strung harps', presumably in the hands of some of the harpers formally included by name in the advance programme and totally ignoring the irony that under the social mores of the times, the real 'old wirestrung harper' had been banished to playing in the interval. (Please click on the image below to see a pdf file of the full announcement)

Review of the May 7 concert

In the advance advert for the next concert which appeared in the paper on Thursday May 8, the day of the concert, the interval was described as;-

In the interval the Irish Union Pipes will be played on
By Mr. O'Flaherty.
Who will perform the celebrated piece
The Ancient Irish Wirestrung Harp will be played on
by a Blind Irish Harper

May 8 advert for the next concert of the Irish Harp Revival Festival

This concert was also followed the next day by a review which noted that;-

M'Donnell's Lamentation was played on the Irish hornpipes, (sic), by Mr. O'Flaherty. A blind piper and a blind harper played a rather long exercise on a wire string harp.

The advertisement for the final concert on Saturday, May 10, included a number of changes, there was also another last minute change due to indisposition of one of the trio of wire harpers (see the review which follows the clipping below).

May 10 advert giving the program for the final concert of the Irish Harp Revival Festival

The final concert was also reviewed but this time under the name of Herr Adolf Sjoden, (1843-1893), the Swedish Harp virtuoso who seems to have been the primary instigator of the Revival Festival. From the overall picture given by this review and the previous reviews and advertised programmes the main emphasis was on the revival of the 'wire strung harp' rather than the old players and their music, a point made a little later that month when many of the same group of performers took part with their harps in the celebration of Moore's centenary when Herr Sjoden himself played on Moore's royal portable harp which had been restrung and loaned from the Royal Irish Academy especially for the occasion.*

Freeman's Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser
Monday, May 12, 1879


On Saturday night the Irish harp festival was brought to a close, the Round Room of the Rotundo, where Herr Adolf Sjoden and his talented band of artistes have scored an unequivocal success, being literally crammed with an enthusiastic audience. The feature of the evening was, of course, the harp performance of Herr Sjoden himself, and certainly he has proved pretty conclusively that in such hands as his at least the national instrument is capable of all or nearly all the revivalists would claim for it. In Oberthur's ''Concertino'', with which the concert opened, its power and brilliancy of execution were abundantly displayed by him, Signor Caracciolo accompanying on the piano. Miss Johanna Ward's rendering of Handel's 'Canzio d'Aspetto' was tasteful and effective. Two excellent harp solos succeeded, one of which 'The Harper's Dream' was expressly written for Herr Sjoden by Mr. Harvey, and now performed for the first time in public. 'Old Ireland's hearts and hands' sung by Miss Bessie Craig, met with an imperative encore, in response to which she gave Bishop's 'Tell me, my heart', and that plaintive old Irish ballad, 'I wish I were on yonder hill', the latter being remarkable for its depth of pathos and expression. Mr. O'Flaherty, a blind Irish piper, played 'The Foxchase' in a manner eminently suggestive, the wild and inharmonious strains contrasting beautifully with the tuneful utterances of more cultured and less neglected instruments. A blind Irish harper, Mr. Smith, then took up the tale with a fantasia of national airs on a so-called ancient Irish harp, his performance being equally creditable. Miss Bessie Craig was again heard to advantage in 'The harp that once' which she was obliged to repeat. Owing to the absence of Mr. S. Mackey, [presumably a typographical error for Mrs MacKey], for which Herr Sjoden apologised to the audience, a trio on Irish airs had to be arranged as a duet, Professor Glover presiding at the piano with his accustomed ability. A selection of dance tunes rendered by Mr. Levey and Herr Sjoden was deservedly applauded. Herr Sjoden then played 'Echoes of Erin' illustrating with extraordinary dexterity the marvellous affinity existing between some of our ancient Irish airs and those of Scotland and Scandinavia. He subsequently introduced the ancient Welsh harp with three rows of strings, on which he produced some wonderful effects, the two outer rows being tuned in unison, and the middle containing the semitones. His final performance, a fantasia or popular Irish airs, with which the concert concluded, elicited loud cheers.

* McHale, Maria, Moore's centenary: music and politics in Dublin, 1879. in Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, volume 109C, (2009). 387-408

Belfast News–Letter (Belfast, Ireland)

Friday, March 23, 1888,
Issue 22688


There are probably not many now alive who interest themselves in establishing the Harp School of Belfast, which was finally closed in 1839. It was the last attempt to keep alive the cultivation of the national musical instrument of Ireland, but, like every other sentimental anachronism of the kind, the effort expired with the enthusiasts, who, doubtless with the most praiseworthy intentions, wasted their energies in pulling against the stream of human progress; and now the Irish harp would seem to be as extinct as the Dodo or the Tasmanian native. The fact is the Irish harp never was anything but an imperfect instrument, incapable of bearing its part in the developed music of the ‘youngest of the arts’. and its disuse was inevitable.

There were great meetings of harpers in Granard towards the close of the last century, when a strong national feeling had arisen, and was very prevalent among the cultured classes, and these led to the great meeting of harpers held in Belfast in 1792. There Edward Bunting first learned to admire the native Irish airs, which feeling remained during his life, and spurred him fortunately to the task of collecting before they disappeared for ever many of the beautiful melodies, of which some have since become so familiar from their being wedded to the incomparable lyrics of Moore.

When the old race of harpers who assembled in Belfast in 1792 passed away their successors were but a feeble race, with the shadow of impending extinction over them; and though we must regret that the last visible representative of the bardic race, whose songs ‘once thro’ Tara’s hall the soul of music shed’, has met the common fate of man, can we hope or wish that any further effort will be made in preserving a knowledge of the old instrument, now that all the quaint traditional turns, trills, and graces of the old performers can be taught no more by those to whom they had been handed down from generation to generation. The latest notice we can find of the Harp School is in Messrs. Simms & M’Intyre’s Northern or Belfast Almanac for the year 1839 in the following terms:–‘Irish Harp Society, Cromac Street. Institute for the support and education of destitute blind persons. Supported for many years past from a fund raised by the exertion of several patriotic Irishmen resident in the East Indies, but which is now nearly exhausted. Since the decease of the late teacher Mr Rennie, a number of young gentlemen have volunteered to undertake the management, to collect subscriptions, and to increase the number of pupils. – Mr. John M’Adam, secretary’.

There died last month, in Belfast, an old man, who we believe, was entitled to the sad distinction of being ‘the last survivor of the Irish harpers’. His name was Samuel Patrick. He was born in Belfast in 1819, and entered the Harp School in Cromac Street in 1834, and remained there until the school was broken up. On leaving the school he was presented by the committee with a harp which was the companion of his life, and the only property he had to leave to his sister, Mrs Margaret Johnston, whom he supported for the last twenty years.

Patrick’s first employment as a harper was in Belfast at different places of amusement, but in 1845 he went to Dublin, where he was employed to play in one of the hotels. Subsequently he was engaged in the same way in a hotel at Greenore, and he remained there for fifteen years. He returned to Belfast in 1868, and for a number of years followed his profession here, playing in the Botanic Gardens, the Queen’s Island (when it was partly used as a place of amusement), and latterly in the Ormean Park. He had the special permission of the custodians of all those places. Of late years he had to give up open–air performances, but until within a few weeks of his death he was to be found regularly at ‘The Bridge’ the well–known temperance restaurant in Ann Street. From the time he was fourteen years of age Patrick’s eyesight was very defective, and he became quite blind shortly before his return to Belfast in 1868. He was operated upon both by Surgeon Browne and Dr. M’Keown, but the improvement which resulted on each occasion was not permanent, and a severe attack of tic–doloreux, for which he was treated in the Royal Hospital, left him again totally, and this time permanently, deprived of sight.

Poor Patrick died in very reduced circumstances after a long illness, and his sister, who is close on seventy years of age, and blind of one eye, has by his death been bereft of her only supporter, who never failed to share his scanty means with her. She will be an applicant for admission at the next election of the Belfast Charitable Society, and to provide for her support in the meantime, as will be seen by advertisement, it is proposed to raffle her brother’s harp, and we are sure that many will be glad of the opportunity of contributing a trifle to so worthy an object. The harp can be seen at ‘The Bridge’ Ann Street, where Mrs. Robinson will issue tickets for the raffle. In addition to its intrinsic merits as a musical instrument, antiquarians will value it as a relic of old times, only to be found now in museums and collections of antiquity.

Freeman’s Journal and National Press, (Dublin, Ireland)

Monday, May 24, 1897

In an article on the closing day of the Feis Ceoil—


Mr W J Simpson, Belfast, presented a gold trophy in the form of an Irish harp for the best performance on an Irish wire–strung harp of any size. The Feis Committee offered three prizes, one of £5, the second of £3, and the third of £1 for the same. There were no entries. Mr Simpson has given his trophy to the committee for the best competitor at the Feis. The award will be announced when the adjudicators will make their report.

Although there were no entries for the wire–strung harp there were other harp entries and for the Harp Solo, first prize of £5 was won by a Mrs J E Kenny and Harp–Irish Airs, Owen Lloyd’s prize of £3, was won by a Miss May O’Keeffe.

The question of whether the wire–strung harp was extinct was answered in the report of the following years Feis Ceoil which indicated that there was still at least one player around.

Freeman’s Journal and National Press, (Dublin, Ireland)

Thursday, May 5, 1898

portrait of Emily MacDonald of Cathcart

Portrait of Mary (Emily MacDonald)


‘It is curious that in a country which has the harp for its national emblem the promoters should have met with no response to the substantial prize offered for harp solo composition. On the other hand, no prize was offered for a performance on the harp, though every city has now its harpists, and the Feis band of harpers in Belfast numbers seven. The playing of Miss Mary MacDonald* on the Highland harp referred to yesterday attracted much attention. The instrument was gut strung. There is a blind girl in the South of Ireland who plays on the old wire–stringed Irish harp — probably the only instance of its survival in the country. [emphasis is editorial.] The Scottish harp is exactly in form with it, except for the strings. The wire–strung harp produces a greater volume of sound, but the tone is soft and pleasing like that which was so much admired last night. Miss MacDonald has a thorough mastery of the instrument, which, however, is not nearly so difficult to play on as the wire–strung harp of Ireland. Recently the Gaelic League in Dublin got a consignment of Irish harps, which were purchased by members, but it is of course too early to look for any satisfactory results yet, though it leaves us not without hope that the next Feis may witness the playing of a band of Irish harpers on the Irish harp.’

* ‘Mary’ is what this report says although in the advance publicity and a previous mention she is described as Emily MacDonald of Cathcart.

In the year 1899 Robert Bruce Armstrong began his research into the instrument. This led to the 1904 publication of The Irish and Highland Harp and gave rise to the modern revival of the wire-strung harp that, within a century's time, is complete. Here we find a near seamless progression from "is the Irish harp extinct" to Modern Revival.

Submitted by Keith Sanger, 4 November, 2010
Items from Belfast News (1888), Freeman's Journal (1879, 1897 and 1898) added on 19 April, 2011
Item from the Belfast Newsletter (1834) added on 16 May, 2011

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