Trying to describe the process

On Saturday I presented a talk in Belfast, at the Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich as part of the HHSI Discovery Day events within the Remembering Bunting Festival.

The Discovery Day is a composite event I have been doing for the past year or two, in collaboration with Siobhán Armstrong, Sylvia Crawford, and a sean-nos singer (either Róisín Elsafty or Eibhlís Ní Ríordáin). The format is to have a concert of harp and voice, given by Siobhán and the singer; a talk, given by me, and an introductory class for complete beginners given by Sylvia Crawford. Each lasts for a bit less than an hour and they usually run pretty much back-to-back, to give a kind of complete overview of the old Irish harp traditions.

Every time I do a Discovery Day talk I end up taking a different angle or approach, partly based on where in the country we are doing the event, and partly based on my current research interests and directions. For this event, I wanted to pick up on the work of Edward Bunting in particular, since it was his festival, and other presenters during the festival weekend were talking about the manuscripts in Queen’s University, or Bunting’s corpus of published music.

My talk also picked up on my recent focus of understanding the transcription process as the primary evidence for old Irish harp performance practice; and I wanted to correlate this in to the method of working with replica harps and portraits of harpers.

I was not as confident and articulate as I would like to have been for this talk, but since I had made the effort to film it I thought it might be useful as a record of where I am at the moment.

Róisín Elsafty and Siobhán Armstrong during the concert
Sylvia Crawford during the beginners class

Playing the harp in the Linen Hall Library

Yesterday I was at the Linen Hall Library in Belfast, for the conference or colloquium, A Celebration of The Beath Collection and the Bicentennial of the Irish Harp Society (1819-39)

The organiser, Lily Neill, had asked me to play some old Irish harp tunes to tie in with the music manuscripts and the early 19th century documents relating to the Irish Harp Society.

I took the new reconstruction copy of the NMI Carolan harp, which was delivered to me in Kilkenny by harpmaker Pedro Ferreira less than four weeks ago. So, this was the new harp’s first public engagement!

I played a couple of tunes I had found in the Collection, and some tunes associated with Irish Harp Society students Matthew Wall and Patrick Byrne.

Here is the full line-up for the day:

3:30pm-4:00pm
Dr. Mary Louise O’Donnell – “The Bengal Subscription and the Irish-Indian Connection”
Frank Bunting – “Edward Bunting’s Kilmore Parish Connections”

5:15pm-6:15pm
Philip McDonagh – “Do you remember Sinclair Stevenson? Reflections on the Irish Missionary Tradition in India”
Lily Neill – “The Emergence of the Lever Harp”

6:30pm-7:00pm
Simon Chadwick – “The Old Irish Harp”
Nicholas Carolan – “Some Irish Traditional Music Finds in the Beath Collection”

Mary Louise O’Donnell
Frank Bunting
Philip McDonagh
Lily Neill
Me with the new harp
Nicholas Carolan
Conference attendees discussing items from the Beath Collection on display

My header image shows a fragment of a manuscript which I played in my concert, from the Collection: Box 4, appendix 1, no.8

Harp Society scandal

From the Minute Book of the Irish Harp Society, Belfast, some time in the first few months of 1810:

The Committee proceeded to an investigation of certain charges made by Arthur O Neill our Harper against Bridget O Reilly and Edward McBride two of our Scholars for having an Improper Connection. They were unanimously of opinion that such charges have been altogether groundless, false and unfounded

Belfast, Linen Hall Library, Beath Collection, box 5, item 1

(the previous page is dated 6th Feb 1810; this may be from that meeting or may be from an subsequent undated meeting. The entry is followed by a few blank pages and then the next item, in a different hand, is dated 8th May 1810.)

Bridget O’Reilly was from Virginia, County Cavan. She was a student of the Irish Harp Society school starting in September 1809.

Edward McBride was born around 1792. He was from from Omagh. He was a student at the Irish Harp Society starting in November 1808. When the Irish Harp Society was re-formed in 1819, McBride was recruited to be the new master and teacher of the school; one of his students then was Patrick Byrne.

McFall harp

Earlier this year the Historical Harp Society of Ireland acquired an interesting harp, made by James McFall in Belfast.

I don’t know the exact date of manufacture, but it must be between about 1900 and 1950. We know that McFall adverised the availability of harps withe wire strings as well as the more usual gut-strung revival instruments.

Continue reading McFall harp