File AI.80.019 in the NMI archive contains papers associated with a harp (NMI DF:1980.6) which is said to have originally belonged to Valentine Rainey, master of the Belfast Harp Society school in the early 19th century. The file includes letters relating to the purchase of the harp, as well as photocopies of a selection of other documents which may have come with the harp; there are some pages from Charlotte Milligan Fox’s book, Annals of the Irish harpers (1911), a photo of the harp with some information about its provenance, and a couple of handwritten pages of information about harpers.
There is no other information about these handwritten pages; all we have is the photocopies themselves. One is obviously a quick draft version, and the second a neater and slightly fuller version. The handwriting is difficult to read. This is my transcription of the two sheets.
Sheet 1 (rough draft version), side 1
Bell. Died about Derry
Tom Brown died Belfast was a Belfastman a good harper
died from a wetting coming from England to Belfast
Blakeley. Whose father was a sergeant and Bandmaster
this Blakeley was a good harper had a good knowledge
of music. Travelled with his father
Sally Moore Academy St
Tom Hardy (Knew this Tom Hardy – (Hardy played in McCulloghs
corner of Shankhill Rd
and Townsend St.
Roddy Bagelley (knew this Roddy Bagelley
Burns Belonged to Drogheda never played in Belfast
Alex Jackson good harper taught in Belfast
born in Ballinderry lost his sight when a child
playing Smoking cane sticks
Pat Murney last of Irish harpers father was Pat Murney a cooper
Pat was blind from a boy – not sure whether
born in Belfast or Cushendall his mother well known
by his Master Rainey. Rainey did not want
Sheet 1 (rough draft version), side 2
to teach Pat Murney as he was too well known
his excuse was that pat was too small and could
not open the octaves. However pat was received
and Rainey was his teacher. Pat was so fond of the
Harp that it was not long until he exceeded his
master who was more a Fiddler than a Harper
on one occasion he caught pat lifting a tune he
had been teaching an other pupil for which he reprimanded
him told him not to attempt the like again
Some Gentlemen visiting the School to hear the boys play
Rainey called pat first – He played the Harmonious
and the Coulin all played it of
course he excelled all the others for which he was
Highly complimented Pat died in the Poor House
he had 2 sisters one married to a painter went to America
Walker. Shipbuoy St Sexton in a church Rosemary St
Belonged to place Call the Rough Fort High Town
made a Harp and played fairly well only played Bass note thumb
and finger had never seen fingering proper. Visited Raineys
school heard the boys play and played for Rainey on all
Sheet 2 (neater expanded version), side 1
Irish Harpers particularly from Belfast
by George Jackson (Clock maker to trade) Belfast
this information taken down by me William Savage
from George Jackson when he was stringing my Harp
a copy of the O’Brian Harp now in Trinity College
Dublin. George was a fair player of the Harp.
Anything he learned was from Pat Murney.
Rainey <Valentine> – Cousin to Burns Scotch Poet. (See Mrs. M. Fox’s Book
Taught the Belfast School in Cromac St.
Bell… Died about Derry
Tom Brown – Born in Belfast and died in it. A good
Harper. Died from a wetting coming from England
Blakeley. Whose Father was a Sergeant and Bandmaster
This Blakeley was a good Harper and had
a good Knowledge of music Travelled with his Father
Samuel Patrick -. Played at Queens Island and Ormeau Park
Sally moore – Academy St good player I think she
was in Dr Corrys panorama of Ireland when he
travelled america. This is not too reliable
Tom Hardy – George Jackson knew this Tom Hardy
Hardy played in McCulloughs Free and easy
Corner Townsend St. and Shankill rd Tom Hardy was
[???? ?n Shankill]
Roddy Baggley – George knew him personally.
Burns – Belonged to Drogheda he never played in Belfast.
Alexander Jackson a good Harper taught in Belfast –
was born in Ballinderry lost his sight when a
child playing Smoking cane Sticks
Pat Murney – Last of the <local>. Harpers who played in Belfast.
His father was a Cooper to trade
Pat was blind from Childhood. Not sure whether born
in Belfast or Cushendall. He is mentioned in Mrs
Milligan Foxs Book as from Cushendall.
His Mother well known by his master Rainey
Rainey did not want to teach Pat as he was too
well known. His excuse was that Pat was too
small. and could not play the Octaves.
However – Pat was received and Rainey was his teacher
Pat was so fond of the Harp that it was not long until
he excelled his teacher or Master who was more a
Fiddler than a Harper. On one occasion he caught
Pat lifting a tune he had been teaching another pupil
and for which he reprimanded him
and not to attempt the like again
Sheet 2 (neater expanded version), side 2
Some Gentlemen visiting the School to hear the
boys playing. Rainey called Pat first. He
played the Harmonious Blacksmith. and the
Coulon all played it. Of course he excelled
all the others and for which he was very highly
Complimented. Pat died in the Poor House
he had been some time in the Nazareth
Home Ballynafeigh – but I think he came
out. and after some time died in the
Poor House. I am not sure about his
Harp but I heard that he had left it in
Ballynafeigh where he had first went
Pat had two sisters one was married to a painter
and went to America.
Walker – Shipbuoy St – was Sexton in a Rosemary st
Church. Belonged to Rough Fort
Hightown. Made a Harp and played fairly
well on it (only played Base with thumb
and finger. Had never seen fingering
proper. Visited Rainey’s School
heard the Boys play and played for Rainey
There is so much fascinating information here about the harp scene in Belfast in the 19th century. We have a good amount of information about Rainey, but some of these harpers named are very obscure or little known.
The only passage I can’t make out is on the neat copy, the little marginal note about McCullough’s. There is also a deleted few letters after Sally Moore’s name. I have shown these with square brackets . Insertions above the line are indicated with angle brackets <>.
Lineages of some of the people involved
Arthur O’Neill (1734 – 1816) was the master of the first Irish Harp Society school in Belfast. One of his pupils was Valentine Rennie or Rainey (c.1795/97 – 1837). Valentine Rainey himself became master of the second Belfast Harp Society school, between 1823 and 1837. Pat Murney was one of his pupils there. Dr James McDonnell was some kind of patron to Pat, referring to him as “my little harper”; Murney was still alive in 1882, when he dictated stringing instructions to James O’Laverty (reported in ‘The Irish harp’, Denvir’s Monthly, 1903). I do not know anything more about George Jackson, apart from what is given in this document – we are told that he learned from Pat Murney. That would have been after the end of the Society school.
Dating the documents
William Savage, with his brother, “spent twenty years” making a replica of the Trinity College or Brian Boru harp. William gave the harp to Richard Hayward in 1951, and he was dead by the time Hayward’s book The story of the Irish harp was published in 1954. Hayward tells us that the replica had been made “about 1900”. Savage tells us in the document above, that the information was “taken down … from George Jackson when he was stringing” the replica. The document references Charlotte Milligan Fox’s Annals of the Irish Harpers published in 1911, but these two reference to Fox’s book are in the neat copy, with none in the rough draft. It is possible that the draft sheet dates from before 1911, and the neat copy made some time after, but it is also possible that everything – the stringing, the draft note taking and all, date from after 1911.