Lough Erne

Part 3 summary

I realised that the last interim summary of my Old Irish harp Transcriptions Project was posted a year ago – that seems too long without an update of where we are just now.

Last April I finished working through part 3 of Edward Bunting’s 1790s collecting pamphlets (Queen’s University Belfast, Special Collections, MS4.29). However, I had skipped a lot of the pages which I didn’t understand, or which I thought might be vocal transcriptions and not taken live from harpers.

This past year I have gone back through parts 1 and 3 of MS4.29, looking at pages and tunes that I had skipped previously. I especially got bogged down in the notations that I think are most likely transcribed live from the singing of harper and tradition-bearer Charles Byrne. In some ways I wanted to skip these; they don’t give us information about old Irish harp performance, since I think they were transcribed from his singing not his playing. But I realised that for tunes like this I could only say this with confidence after working through the notation, so that’s why I posted them here.

Anyway, now I have done these. The only things left to do in MS4.29 are the Denis O’Hampsey live transcription notations, and I am starting to turn my attention to them next.


At the end of part 2 last April, I reported that I had done 91 minutes of video and 83,000 words.

Over the past year I have only done 2 tune videos, of Grádh gan fhios and Eleanor Plunkett. (I also did a tuning demonstration video, though that is not really connected to this project). Instead, I have focussed on making machine audios and PDF typeset versions of what is actually written on the page, and also often of the piano derivatives, as a different and more impartial way of understanding the manuscript notations. I have also been collaborating with Sylvia Crawford on her work to understand and apply the old Irish harp fingering techniques – I published her book back in the summer, and have been trying to learn to use the fingerings in my own playing. Eventually I will start making youtubes again. But I have so much else to be doing now!

However my word count has gone up nicely; I am now at 150,000 words, an increase of 67,000 in the past year. I have written up 85 tunes in total now.

I have also had some interesting comments from people, adding references to books or to songs that are relevant to the discussion. I always welcome your input, additions or corrections. You can just post your comment at the bottom of each page, or you can contact me privately if you don’t want your words of wisdom shown to the world!

Summary so far

The more I work at this project, the more of an understand I am getting of how to read and understand the manuscript notations. I feel like I am starting to see the shape of a formal methodology and intellectual tools to be able to properly analyse and understand not just a specific manuscript page, but also to be able to start constructing a rigourous and careful overview of the old Irish harp scene as we see it in the 1790s and early 1800s. This work of building intellectual tools and methodologies is still a work in progress, but already I see that my earliest posts from two years ago are looking very naïve, and I was jumping to conclusions back then that I think I would disagree with on a subtle level now.

Thank you for reading, thank you for your feedback.

Many thanks to Queen’s University Belfast Special Collections for the digitised pages from MS4 (the Bunting Collection), and for letting me use them here.

Many thanks to the Arts Council of Northern Ireland for helping to provide the equipment used for these posts, and also for supporting the writing of these blog posts.

2 thoughts on “Part 3 summary”

  1. I really appreciate your returning to previous work, from a different perspective. The Bunting manuscripts need much interpretation, and it needs to be done by players who follow the traditional/historical norms. O’Hampsey pieces are challenging—particularly my old friend, Cumha Caoine Albanach (Scott’s Lamentation) on which I’ve once again returned working. I recorded it back in 1992 (or so) and I learned from later explorations to not bother writing things down; initially I used a print out of my hand-copied version from 1987 (using 2 colors of ink and pencil) and now I’m using digital images from ms. 29 that are color printed, gynormous (15×18) … and I treat them like two paintings of the same subject. In my opinion, people’s interpretations will vary, ever dependent upon personal “deep practice” and artistic research. That is what magically brings it to life…and, why I very much look forward to your version!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.