The following is extracted from a longer report on the Castle Otway harp:

A report on The Castle Otway Harp
(or Otway Harp)
now in the keeping of Trinity College, Dublin

by Michael Billinge

This harp, which gets its name from a longtime association with the Otway family of Castle Otway, Templederry, Co. Tipperary, is probably the second oldest surviving Irish harp, perhaps the oldest that can be said to have come down to us in a more or less complete state. As such, it represents a significantly important example of the Irish harpmaker’s craft.

It was at one time assumed that this harp had been constructed by Cormac O’Kelly, a maker of note from Ballinascreen (Draperstown) in Co. Derry, who was active early in the 18th century. On closer examination this now seems doubtful, for the reasons explored below; but there had been cause to believe this in the past.

The O’Kelly connection

The name and inscription

The name of O’Kelly as a harpmaker would have first come to wider public notice in 1806 with the publication of The Wild Irish Girl, a novel by Sydney Owenson (Lady Morgan). She included a character clearly based on the harper Dennis Hampson, a man of venerable age who owned the instrument later to become known as the Downhill Harp. As part of her research, Lady Morgan had asked the Rev. George Sampson to interview Hampson and we are fortunate that she then decided to reproduce in her novel the actual letter she received from Sampson giving his account of this conversation. At the end Sampson quoted a verse which he said was sculptured on the old harp:

In the time of Noah I was green,
After his flood I have not been seen,
Until seventeen hundred and two. I was found,
By Cormac Kelly under ground ;
He raised me up to that degree ;
Queen of Music they call me. [1]

It is interesting to note that the verse as produced by Sampson is not a totally accurate rendering of the true inscription on the Downhill harp, and the form of the name actually carved on this instrument is C:R:KELY. Sampson therefore could not have read Cormac from what was written on the harp, so Hampson presumably told him that Cormac was the name of the man who made it. [2] However, it was the popularity that The Wild Irish Girl achieved which helped spread the fame of Hampson, then in his final years, and also that of Cormac Kelly as the maker of his harp.

The first published comment that O’Kelly was also the maker of (what was assumed to be) the Castle Otway harp was made by Edward Bunting in 1809:

A Harp made by Cormack O’Kelly, of Ballynascreen, in the county of Londonderry, about the year 1700, bears so perfect a resemblance to the Dublin Harp in every respect, among others, in the figures of the wolf dogs engraved on the front pillars... [3]

Bunting was a little more specific when alluding to this harp in his 1840 volume, where ― after having stated that the Downhill harp was made by Cormac O’Kelly ― he added a footnote saying:

Quin’s Harp was made by the same artist. The Editor saw it at Egan’s, the late harp maker’s, in Dublin. It was a handsomely formed instrument, and made, as usual, of red sallow from the bog. It bears the date 1707. [4]

George Petrie, in a letter to Eugene O’Curry, reiterated the observation that the harp at Castle Otway was made by the same maker as the Downhill harp [Cormac Kelly] and that it bears the date 1707. [5] However, it was Robert Bruce Armstrong who first expressed serious doubts as to whether O’Kelly had truly been the maker of the Castle Otway harp.

In his work The Irish and the Highland Harps, Robert Bruce Armstrong devoted a section to the Castle Otway harp, and despite the fact that he made a number of uncharacteristic errors in his observations and assumptions (which will be assessed later) it is still a very important account. Having first referred to the comments made by Bunting and Petrie, Armstrong then continued to describe the instrument in some detail, and made the following remarks on what he had seen inscribed on the forepillar:

Upon the back of the fore–pillar, that is the portion nearest to the box, the figures 1410 are incised, immediately following which the name Cormac O’Kelly rudely carved can be indistinctly traced, after which there are letters or figures now scarcely visible. It is strange to find a maker’s name carved in very crude characters upon an instrument so richly and delicately decorated. This harp is of a purely Celtic form, and has no resemblance to the genuine Cormac O’Kelly preserved at Downhill, except in having the sound–holes similarly ornamented, and sound–holes of both the harps are here represented for comparison (Figs. VIII., IX.).

The Castle Otway Harp has all the appearance of having been constructed during the first half of the seventeenth century, while the Downhill instrument is dated 1702. It is certain that the Castle Otway Harp required to be repaired at some period, and certain repairs were executed upon the upper portion of the string band. The Harp may have been intrusted to Cormac O’Kelly for that purpose, and he may have carved his name and copied the ornamental sound–holes when constructing the Downhill instrument. The date about 1700 or of 1707, stated by Joy, Bunting, and Petrie to be upon it, is not visible, but the figures 1410 are distinctly so (Fig. X.). In 1410 figures would have most probably have been carved in relief, whereas in this case they are incised. Again, Arabic numerals were probably not in use in 1410. If these figures are examined in reverse they represent 0171, and this is probably what Joy, Bunting, and Petrie noticed. [6]

Here Armstrong seems to have become sidetracked by the figures 1410 which he stated were incised on the pillar (reproduced from a rubbing in his Fig. X.). His suggestion that these shapes could be interpreted as 0171 if seen in reverse and that this could somehow then have been mistaken for 1707 is scarcely credible. However his general observation that the Otway bore no resemblance to the genuine Cormac O’Kelly preserved at Downhill is a fair one, especially since at that time no other examples of an O’Kelly harp were known, with which to make comparisons.

However, in October 2013 a previously unnoticed painting of a harp came to light. It is a depiction of the Magenis Harp which O’Kelly apparently made in 1711 for Captain Arthur Magenis. This work not only skilfully preserves much of the instrument’s detail, but also indicates how O’Kelly actually spelled his own name: clearly visible, carved in relief on the side of the soundbox, is the statement that the harp was made by CORMICK O KELLY,[7] thus giving his full name; whereas the one shown on the Downhill harp (C:R:KELY) had been abbreviated to fit in with the limited space available. [8] Previous mentions of his name had also differed somewhat in their form and spelling: Cormack O’Kelly (Bunting 1809), Cormac O’Kelly (Bunting 1840 and Armstrong), Cormac Kelly (Petrie and Sampson). However, now ― for the first time ― we knew the actual form of the name that he used himself.

These differing versions are understandable when one considers that the name would often have been communicated orally or written down from recollections or poorly–recorded observations made in the past. However, a more recent attempt at transcribing the letters written on the pillar of the Castle Otway harp indicates that the form of name used thereon appears to be CORMAC KELLY. [9] If correct, this observation is most interesting because ― although CORMAC KELLY is not the form of the name that O’Kelly is now known to have used himself ― it does exactly correspond to the one first brought to public attention via Lady Morgan’s novel The Wild Irish Girl.

This is significant because it raises the intriguing possibility that it was not Cormick O’Kelly who wrote the name on the Otway harp in 1707, but rather that it was added a century later, by someone who merely copied the incorrect spelling from The Wild Irish Girl in an attempt to cash in on the name of a famous maker and enhance the value of the instrument.

If the inscription is a forgery, there would then no longer be any reason to associate the Castle Otway harp with O’Kelly. This could explain the lack of basic similarity between it and the instruments that O’Kelly is known to have made. It therefore becomes crucially important to verify the exact nature of the figures marked on the forepillar.

Accordingly, in May 2014 I arranged with Trinity College to inspect the Castle Otway harp and attempt to settle the question of what is actually written on it, and how this compares with the name depicted on the Magenis harp. Fortunately my visit bore fruit and I was able to successfully identify all the letters and numbers inscribed on the harp, and inform the library staff of the results.

On inspection, I found that the name written on the forepillar was neither CORMAC KELLY as had previously been suggested nor Cormac O’Kelly as Armstrong had stated, but rather CORMICK O KELLY ― which exactly matches the spelling that O’Kelly used himself on the Magenis harp. This name was then followed by the numbers 1707. Despite Armstrong’s comments that they were scarcely visible, it was really not too difficult to make out all of these figures. Even though the surface of the lower part of the forepillar is disturbed by many collapsed woodworm tunnels, the pillar itself is not decayed; and in between the tunnel–indents the surface is fair. Therefore the elements of the figures can be made out clearly enough.

It is strange that Armstrong, usually quite meticulous in his studies, should have missed this and even gone so far as to state that the date is not visible. He also made some other errors in his text, and the fact that he asked Miss Otway–Ruthven’s to supply him with further information (rubbings and sketches) [10] suggests that he may have been pressed for time or coping with other distractions. Such inaccuracies are unusual for Armstrong.

His attention became drawn away from the inscription towards some marks on the pillar, and he states that the figures 1410 are incised, but he was incorrect about this too. They clearly show up on his photographs [11] and had he examined the originals more thoroughly, he might have realised that these marks were neither incised, nor are they numerals. The fact that he had asked for a rubbing to be made of them may indicate that he hadn't been able to inspect them closely. In any case, rubbings can be misleading.

These curious markings, situated near the mid–point of the pillar, appear as four vertical lines, one shorter than the others, followed by a circular indentation which forms an open ring (more like a letter C than a letter O or a zero). But they do not appear to have been carved or incised into the surface, as previous observers have stated, but rather seem to have been stamped ― and quite deeply. A close examination of the surface of the wood revealed that the fibres had been compressed downwards along the edge of the lines where the impact of the stamp had crushed them. [12] The lines are also crossed in parts by some old collapsed woodworm tunnels, and it seems likely that it was the combination of the lines and crossing tunnels, as they would appear in Armstrong’s rubbing, which he mistook for a figure 4.

The reason why anyone should have made these markings is unclear. They may have been some sort of personalised stamp added as a record of ownership, although they can't really be seen as letters or numbers per se. However, since they're executed so boldly, they clearly must have some significance. This is reinforced by the fact that further inspection revealed signs of what may have been an earlier attempt to apply a similar marking: at the bottom of the pillar another circular indentation can be found, and just above this ― where the number 1707 is incised ― there is further evidence of the timber having been crushed. This is consistent with an effort to impress lines into the surface, similar to those found above. Perhaps an initial attempt to mark the harp was first made at the base of the pillar, but the woodworm damage was found to be too great and the surface began to collapse under the force of the stamp rather than holding its shape. It was then presumably decided to abandon this attempt and reapply the markings at the centre of the pillar (above the inscription) where the timber was in a better condition. If this scenario is correct, it would indicate that they were added after the inscription and date 1707 had already been written on the harp ― possibly quite some time later.

Before completing my observations regarding the inscriptions on the forepillar, I would like to comment on the style of the lettering and figures used for the name and date. Armstrong referred to the name as being rudely carved and further stated that they were very crude characters. But I don’t think that is really a fair description. All the letters, (which are block capitals, like those found on the Downhill and Magenis harps) are neatly executed. In fact when compared with their equivalents on the Downhill, the letters on the Otway appear clearer and more regularly formed; and in this respect perhaps are closer to those produced on the Magenis harp. However, the characters on the Magenis were carved in relief, which clearly would have taken time and forethought to produce, whereas those on the Downhill were incised, and could even have been added after the instrument was finished.[13] The figures on the Otway were also incised, but much less heavily executed than those on the Downhill. As a result, its lettering would not have appeared obtrusive or overly obvious when first added.

Further Comments

As I mentioned above, my main purpose in arranging to examine the harp was to establish the exact spelling of O’Kelly’s name as inscribed on it. Had it been found to read CORMAC KELLY as previously suggested, and not CORMICK O KELLY — the spelling O’Kelly himself actually used — it would have indicated a strong possibility that the letters and date were added by someone else, perhaps in an attempt to raise the instrument’s value. But since the spelling was found to be identical with that used on the Magenis harp, as opposed to the one found in The Wild Irish Girl, this likelihood is greatly diminished. If it was put there by O’Kelly himself, it raises questions as to whether he had built this instrument or merely attached his name to it for some other reason.

As already stated, Armstrong remarked that the Castle Otway harp had no resemblance to the genuine Cormac O’Kelly preserved at Downhill and it is quite clear that he considered the instrument to have been the product of a former age and not the work of O’Kelly. Indeed, when comparing the Otway with the Downhill and the Magenis portrait, the differences between it and the other two harps known to have been O’Kelly’s work are quite apparent. The forepillar of the Otway seems fairly typical of what might be expected for the late 16th or early 17th century (the 1621 Dalway harp could perhaps provide a reasonable parallel), yet the styling of the pillars on the Downhill and Magenis instruments are quite unlike those of any other known harp. A similar observation could be made about the necks, with the Otway’s exhibiting characteristics of an earlier period than those of the two O’Kelly examples. The differences in the soundboxes are also fairly obvious.

But above all, it is the overall form of the Otway harp, particularly with respect to the harmonic scaling of the instrument, that speaks of the design principles and usage of an earlier era ― one quite different from those of the Downhill and its contemporaries. Not only does it seem improbable that O’Kelly should have deliberately chosen to build a harp so unlike his others in form, but also contemporary requirements would have demanded an instrument suited to the needs of the time, not one made for those of a bygone age.

Therefore it is doubtful that O’Kelly actually made the Otway harp, or even that it was constructed at the beginning of the 18th century. However, it still seems quite possible that it passed through his hands at this time. In fact, a few interesting features from the Otway can also be found on the Downhill and Magenis harps, and these may hint at this being the case. Three in particular are worthy of specific mention:

The first is one that Armstrong had already noted, concerning the similarity of the ornamentation at the soundholes on the Otway and Downhill harps. Before going further, it should be clarified that the hexafoil was quite a common design motif and there is nothing particularly unusual about the shape itself, which works nicely as a pattern for a soundhole infill. However, there is a great deal of similarity between the way these infills on the Otway and Downhill harps have been formed, which goes beyond the basic hexafoil shape. Both carvings exhibit the same style and hollowing of the leaf surfaces and, as if to further underline the point, an examination of the Magenis portrait reveals that this very same characteristic was repeated by O’Kelly on its soundholes too.

Armstrong then went on to suggest that O’Kelly may have copied the ornamental sound–holes [from the Otway] when constructing the Downhill instrument. But at first sight, the dates associated with them present a problem regarding this theory. The Downhill says 1702 and the Otway 1707, which contradicts the idea that the Downhill’s soundholes could have been copied from the Otway. However, it would be unwise to take these two dates at face value because two possibilities mitigate against their reliability for this purpose.

One is that O’Kelly may well have had the Otway harp in his possession, or at least had good knowledge of it for quite some time before the date was added to the forepillar. The other is that the date carved on the Downhill is probably not actually that of its completion; rather it seems to relate to the finding of the timber used in its construction. As such, the actual date for the finished Downhill could well have been several years later.[14] Putting these two factors together, it therefore indeed becomes plausible to suggest that the soundholes on the Downhill may have been copied from the Otway. The same holds true for the Magenis harp, dated 1711, whose soundhole infill decoration could also have been influenced by the Castle Otway harp.

The second interesting connection, this time between the Otway and the Magenis harps, concerns patterns of decoration on the brass neck bands through which the tuning pins pass. A close examination of both the Otway harp and the Magenis painting reveals that a decorative circle (approximately 9mm. in diameter) had been scored into the brass surface around each of the pin holes. The intriguing thing about this common decorative feature is that thus far it has not been found on any other harp. It is the apparent uniqueness of this connection that particularly reinforces the idea that O’Kelly was influenced by some of the features he noted on the Otway harp when making his own.

A third clue which may suggest that contact with the Otway harp could have had an influence on O’Kelly’s work relates to an observation made previously, concerning the Magenis painting.[15] In this picture it can be seen that the Magenis utilised a joint whereby the forepillar was inserted into the underside of the neck. This was the method found on many older harps, including the Otway. But by 1711 this style of joining the neck and pillar had generally been superseded by having the neck inserted into the forepillar, which allowed for a steeper neck angle. Logically speaking, one might expect that the Magenis, being a larger instrument than the Downhill, would have used the later form of joint. But perhaps O’Kelly had been so impressed and influenced by what he found on the Otway that he decided to try something similar for the Magenis.

In conclusion, the form and style of the Castle Otway harp appears to relate to a period a century before O’Kelly’s time, and it seems inconceivable that he would have considered making such an antiquated instrument anew. However it is probably reasonable to assume that this instrument was acquired and refurbished by him, and that he then lightly inscribed his name and the date 1707 on the back of the forepillar. There is a small theoretical possibility that his name might have been added later by another hand, in an attempt to raise the harp’s value; but if so, the forger knew the correct spelling that Cormick O’Kelly used himself. When the points of similarity noted between the Otway and the other O’Kelly harps are also considered, the balance of probability certainly tips in favour of O’Kelly having a genuine connection to this harp.


It is difficult to ascertain exactly when this instrument was made, but from its general form and decoration a date somewhere around the late 16th or early 17th century would seem most likely. Early in the 18th century it appears to have passed through the hands of the famed harpmaker Cormick O’Kelly, who may well have refurbished the instrument at this time (see above).

The only harper known with any degree of certainty to have played this instrument was Patrick Quin (1745–1812) from Portadown, Co. Armagh. Clearly he was not its original owner and it is not known when it came into his possession, but there is a painting in the Ulster Museum depicting Quin playing this harp, probably c.1809.[16]

At some stage in the early 19th century it was apparently in the shop of John Egan, the famed Dublin harpmaker, for Edward Bunting informs us that:

Quin’s Harp was made by the same artist. The Editor saw it at Egan’s, the late harp maker’s, in Dublin.[17]

The earliest recorded mention currently known of the instrument being at Castle Otway is contained in a letter written c.1861/1862 by George Petrie and sent to his friend Eugene O’Curry. This letter provided information on the Irish harps that Petrie knew of, which O’Curry subsequently included in a lecture he gave in 1862, one of a series. In 1873 a transcript of all these talks was published posthumously under the title On the Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish. The section of Petrie’s letter mentioning the harp at Castle Otway also supplies some source material on Patrick Quin and is worth relating in full:

A second, by the same maker, is preserved at Castle Otway, in the county of Tipperary, the seat of Captain Robert Jocelyn Otway, R.N. and D.L., and bears the date 1707. This harp was the property of the harper and fiddler, Patrick Quin, a native of Portadown, in the county of Armagh, and who was the youngest of the harpers who attended at the assembly in July, 1792, Hampson being the eldest. Quin was brought to Dublin in 1809, as the only survivor of the old harpers, by the unfortunate John Bernard Trotter, who had made visionary and fruitless attempt to organize a Harp Society, through whose patronage a school for the instruction of a new race of harpers might be established, of which Quin was to be the teacher; and many Dublin septuagenarians like myself may remember his performance at a Commemoration of Handel at the Rotundo in that year, and which was got up with a view to promote this object. [18]

However, the harp seems to have already been in the possession of the Otway family for several years prior to 1850, because Robert Bruce Armstrong (having presumably made enquires with the family) writes:

At what time it became the possession of the Otway family cannot be stated, for when the late Admiral Otway succeeded to the estate in 1850 the harp was at Castle Otway, and it was not known when or from whom it had been acquired. [19]

As details of the harp’s acquisition were unknown to the family by the beginning of the twentieth century, the question of how it came to be at Castle Otway may never be resolved with any degree of certainty, so we can only speculate. We don't know exactly what happened to it after Quin’s death, and unfortunately Bunting does not tell us what year he saw it in Egan’s workshop.

Since the harp was at Castle Otway before Robert Otway inherited the property, its previous occupant, Robert Otway–Cave, is a plausible candidate as the instrument’s owner. He inherited the estate in 1815 and held it until he died in 1844, when it passed over to his wife until her death in 1849. He clearly fits the time–frame, but he spent much of his life in England, where he was educated and served for several years as a Member of Parliament. Therefore the acquisition of an old Irish harp may not have been of much interest to him. Otway–Cave’s father, Henry Otway, had died in 1815 and there is a slim possibility that he may have been the one to obtain it.

However, one other member of the Otway family is worth considering, even though he was never the owner of the Castle himself. This is the Rev. Ceasar Otway, who was known as a writer and antiquarian with a liking for Irish culture and history ― just the sort of man who would have had an interest in acquiring an old Irish harp, especially one known to have belonged to a noted harper. He left Tipperary to study divinity at Trinity College Dublin, where he obtained his B.A., and spent most of his life in that city. It was in Dublin that he met George Petrie, and together they helped start the Dublin Penny Journal in 1832. This could be an intriguing connection, because Petrie himself is known to have purchased another old Irish harp ― the Fitzgerald Kildare Harp[20] ― and it’s possible that his friend Ceasar may have done something similar (perhaps having seen the instrument at Egan’s establishment).

If so, then it would not be unreasonable to suggest that he would at some stage have thought it desirable to store it at the family’s great house in Tipperary where there was more room. The fact that Robert Otway knew nothing about the item when he came to the estate in 1850 might be explainable if it had originally been stored there by a more distant member of the family who had subsequently died some years previously. This suggestion may gain a little more credibility when one considers that it was George Petrie who actually drew attention to the fact that the harp was at Castle Otway, something he would well have known if his friend Ceasar Otway was the one who obtained it and placed it there.

When Robert Otway died in 1884 the estate passed to his daughter Frances and her husband William (who were later to adopt the name Otway–Ruthven). It is clear that the harp came with it, for in 1904 Robert Bruce Armstrong published his major work, The Irish and the Highland Harps, and in it he states that This Harp... is still preserved at Castle Otway.... In conclusion he says that he is indebted to Mrs. Otway–Ruthven, of Castle Otway, for allowing the Harp to be photographed..., and also to Miss Otway–Ruthven for an excellent drawing and rubbings of portions of the ornamentation. [21]

It is not clear how long the harp remained at Castle Otway after Armstrong had seen it, but on 3rd August, 1922, the house was burned to the ground so presumably it had already been removed before this destruction. By then the instrument had passed into the keeping of the Otway–Ruthven’s son, Robert Jocelyn Oliver Otway–Ruthven, who, after a distinguished career as Captain in the Royal Navy, retired to live in Guildford, Surrey. This is where the harp was by the late 1960’s when it was photographed by John H. Pierse, and two of these pictures were subsequently published.

One of them, a three–quarter view, was reproduced in an article Pierse wrote for the Journal of the Kerry Archaeological and Historical Society.[22] The other is a side view, which he gave to Joan Rimmer, who included it in her work The Irish Harp.[23] These appear to be the last known photographs taken of this instrument while it was still in the possession of the Otway–Ruthven family. Captain Robert Otway–Ruthven died in 1974 but by 1970 the harp had been transferred into the care of Trinity College, Dublin, where it remains today.

However, there is another connection between the Otway–Ruthen family and Trinity College: Robert’s sister Annette Jocelyn Otway–Ruthven was a noted authority on Irish history and held the Lecky Chair in history at Trinity for nearly thirty years, from 1951–1980.[24] Although she doesn't appear to have ever owned the harp herself, it seems inconceivable that she would not have had a significant hand in the transfer of the harp from the family to the College.

There is one other event that may have had some relevance to this transfer: On 24th March, 1969, the world–famous Trinity College Harp was stolen from the Library, causing much concern, though it was recovered on 17th April. It may be no coincidence that the Castle Otway harp came to the College soon after this occurrence.

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Appendix: Owners of the Otway Harp

Members of the Otway family who were owners of Castle Otway or might have had a connection with the Castle Otway harp in the 19th and 20th centuries.

(Castle Otway 1800–1815) Henry Otway (1768–1815) inherited Castle Otway from his father Cooke Otway (1728–1800). Married Sarah Cave (1790).

(Castle Otway 1815–1844–1849) Rt. Hon. Robert Otway–Cave (1796–1844). Son of Henry Otway. In 1818 he incorporated his mother's title into the name to become Otway–Cave. He served as a Member of Parliament for Leicester between 1826 and 1830 and Tipperary in 1832. He married Sophie Burnett in 1833 and again served as M.P. for Tipperary from 1835 until he died. The Otway–Caves had no children so when Sophie died in 1849 Castle Otway then passed to Robert Otway–Cave's cousin, Robert Jocelyn Otway.

(Castle Otway 1849–1884) Vice Admiral Robert Jocelyn Otway (1808–1884). Married Ann Crofton in 1836 and they had only one child, a daughter, Frances Magaret Otway. Frances married William Clifford Bermingham Trotter in 1865 who in the same year assumed, by Royal licence, the name Ruthven (replacing Trotter). Then in 1887 William added Otway to this as well and started using the name Otway–Ruthven.

(Castle Otway 1884–1907–1921?) William Clifford Bermingham Otway–Ruthven (1840–1907). His wife, who died in 1921, may well have remained at Castle Otway after her husband. There were five daughters, so it would be difficult to say which one was the Miss Otway–Ruthven that Robert Bruce Armstrong credits with assisting him.

NB. (3rd August 1922) ― Castle Otway was burned down during the Civil War. The harp was clearly not in the house at this time.

Capt. Robert Mervyn Bermingham Otway–Ruthven(1867–1919). Was the eldest son of W. C. B. Otway–Ruthven. He was an army officer who married Margaret Casement in 1900 and had several children, including Robert Jocelyn Oliver Otway–Ruthven and Annette Jocelyn Otway–Ruthven.

Capt. Robert Jocelyn Oliver Otway–Ruthven D.S.O. R.N. (1901–1974). Was the last member of the Otway family to possess the harp.

Prof. Annette Jocelyn Otway–Ruthven (1909–1989). A major Irish historian who held the Lecky chair in history at Trinity College Dublin from 1951–1980. Although technically it was her brother who had the ownership of the harp, she is likely to have played a significant part in the transfer of its ownership to Trinity College.

Rev. Ceasar Otway (1780–1842). A member of the Otway family and, though not of the direct line, he is potentially interesting because there is a possibility that he may have been the one who bought the harp in the first place. Ceasar received his BA at Trinity and spent most of his life in Dublin, marrying Frances Hastings in 1803 and producing five children. Frances died 1833 and in 1837 Ceasar married Elizabeth la Touche. An interesting connection is that he started the Dublin Penny Journal with George Petrie 1832 and that the two shared a common interest in antiquarian matters.

[1] Sydney Owenson (Lady Morgan), The Wild Irish Girl, 1806, Vol. 3, letter XXVII. For a study of Sampson’s interview with Hampson and some related matters arising from it see George Sampson’s letter to Sydney Owenson concerning his interview with Dennis Hampson.

[2] For further information on the Downhill harp and its inscription see Michael Billinge, Building a Reproduction of the Downhill Harp (The Harp of Denis Hempson) for the Irish Television Documentary Banríon an Cheoil, and its Appendix.

[3] Edward Bunting, A General Collection of the Ancient Music of Ireland, London, 1809, p. 24, footnote.

N.B. Despite the fact that Bunting did not further identify this harp it had been assumed by Robert Bruce Armstrong (cited below, p. 73) to refer to the instrument we now call the Castle Otway. Although this assumption can not be proven the description of the two dogs engraved on the front pillars certainly fits the Otway and in light of other observations he had made it would seem a reasonable one.

[4] Edward Bunting, The Ancient Music of Ireland, Dublin, 1840, p. 76, footnote a.

N.B. This line is appended to a sentence that Bunting had taken from the Rev. Sampson’s description of the Downhill harp (see note 1 above) and as such there is a slight element of ambiguity here, for it is not immediately clear whether Bunting is referring to the Downhill or Quin’s harp. However, when read in context, particularly with respect to the location and date, it is clear that it is Quin’s harp.)

[5] Eugene O’Curry, On the Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish, Vol. III, 1873, p. 294.

[6] Robert Bruce Armstrong, Musical Instruments Part 1, The Irish and the Highland Harps, 1904, pp. 77, 78.

For some background on Robert Bruce Armstrong and his important study of the Irish and Highland harps see Robert Bruce Armstrong’s Papers

[7] Michael Billinge, Captain Arthur Magenis ― His Harp and Its Portrait ( December 2013.

[8] For further comment see
Captain Arthur Magenis ― His Harp and Its Portrait, op.cit.
Building a Reproduction of the Downhill Harp..., and its Appendix. op.cit.

[9] This is according to Simon Chadwick who had attempted to record the name on a number of occasions. In 2013 he wrote that he was then reading the inscription pretty confindently [sic] and the name as CORMAC KELLY. This stated in, as noted in November 2013 and again in June 2014.

[10] Robert Bruce Armstrong, op.cit. p. 79, footnote 1.

[11] Robert Bruce Armstrong, op.cit., p. 27 (untitled sketch) and p. 76 (Fig. V.).
Armstrong traced these two drawings off his original photographs and in both cases he has taken care to reproduce the marks as they appeared on the back of the forepillar.

[12] I did also wonder whether this marking might have been formed by branding ― pressing a hot iron strip firmly into the wood ― but I was unable to find any trace of charring on the adjacent timber that might have indicated such a process.

[13] For further comment comparing the inscriptions on the Downhill and Magenis harps see Captain Arthur Magenis ― His Harp and Its Portrait, op.cit.

[14] The verse written on the side of the Downhill harps tells of how I was found underground in 1702 by C.R.Kely who then raised me up. The most likely explanation for the verse and date is that it refers to the finding of the timber from which the harp was eventually made. For a further examination of this verse and matters relating to it see The Appendix to Building a Reproduction of the Downhill Harp..., op.cit.

[15] See Captain Arthur Magenis ― His Harp and Its Portrait, op.cit.

[16] For more information on this painting and Patrick Quin see: Brian Audley, A newly discovered portrait of Patrick Quin, the harper c.1745–1812, Treoir, Vol. 26, No. 4, 1994.

[17] Edward Bunting, 1840, op.cit., p. 76, footnote a.

[18] Eugene O’Curry, op.cit., pp. 294, 295.

N.B. Although there is no date given for the letter itself Petrie’s reference to being a septuagenarian" and the fact that he would not have turned 70 until 1860 means that it was not written that long before O’Curry gave his lecture.

[19] Robert Bruce Armstrong, op.cit., p. 73.

[20] For more information on Petrie’s association with the Kildare harp see George Petrie and the Kildare harp.

[21] Robert Bruce Armstrong, op.cit., p. 79.

[22] John H. Pierse, Nicholas Dall Pierse of Co. Kerry, Harper, Journal of the Kerry Archaeological and Historical Society, vi, 1973, plate 3.

[23] Joan Rimmer, The Irish Harp, 1969, p. 50, plate 21.

[24] An interesting insight into Annette Otway–Ruthven can be found in Peter Crooks' introductory article on The Lecky Professors

Submitted by Michael Billinge July, 2014

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