Botanic Gardens Palm House, Belfast. © Ardfern, 2019, cc-by-sa

Samuel Patrick

Samuel Patrick was said to be a “bad harper” and arsonist. He had a long career working as a traditional Irish harper in Belfast and Dublin, including performing for Queen Victoria’s son, Prince Arthur. This post draws together what I know about him so far.

We have quite a few different sources of information about Samuel Patrick. We have an account of his life in an obituary, which I think is a bit unreliable (Belfast News Letter, 23 March 1888 p7). We have another independent account of the first half of his life, which was written at the time by someone who knew him (Belfast News-Letter, Tue 8 Mar 1864 p4). We have a few other newspaper articles which mention him, and we also have traditionary information passed down from people who knew him. We also have his official death certificate record. In this post I am going to try and tell his life story from the beginning, so I will drop in and out of the different sources as and when they become relevant.

Birth and early years

According to his obituary , Samuel Patrick was born in Belfast in 1819. This does not quite match the age given on his death certificate which would place his birth in 1824 (or the beginning of 1825). But I think ages on these official records are not always correct. The 1864 account says “Samuel Patrick was born in Belfast some forty years ago” which would vaguely match the death certificate age.

We know that he had a brother and a sister. I don’t know the brother’s name; his sister was Margaret. We will meet them both later on in the story.

His obituary says “from the time he was fourteen years of age, Patrick’s eyesight was very defective”. If we believe he was born in 1819, this would mean he became partially-sighted in 1833-4, which would fit with him being sent to learn the harp at that point. The 1864 account merely says he “lost his sight when young”.


Samuel Patrick’s obituary says that he “entered the Harp school in Cromac Street in 1834, and remained there until the school was broken up”. He would have been either 10 or 15 years old when he began his studies, depending on which birth year we believe.

Unfortunately we have very little paperwork from the Irish Harp Society in the 1830s. We have to piece together hints from various sources to try and get an impression of what Samuel Patrick’s student days were like.

By 1834 the Irish Harp Society school seems to have been slowing down. Valentine Rainey was the master and teacher, but he was suffering from some kind of long-term illness through the mid 1830s. Rainey lived with his wife and young son in the Harp Society house on Cromac Street in Belfast. The boys were resident in the house as boarding students, and would study the traditional Irish wire-strung harp full-time. The Harp Society provided board and lodging to the students, and there were harps in the house that the students used for their classes and practice. The usual arrangement was that each student would get their own harp, presented to them by the Society, when they finished and were discharged from the school after a few years study.


We have a strange traditionary anecdote from this time. It comes from the harper and tradition-bearer Patrick Byrne, who had studied at the school 15 years earlier.

Arthur O’Neill’s harp was burned by Samuel Patrick (a bad harper) in the Harp Society house. That harp afterwards belonged to Rainy the harper. Patrick and the others had taken umbridge at Rainie’s wife. It was burned as a bone fire, because Rainie’s wife had gone out of the house. The brass pins were pick’d out of Rainie’s harp & O’Neil’s and they sold them for drink.

Anecdote from Patrick Byrne, written into John Bell’s notebook c.1849, quoted by H. G. Farmer, ‘Some notes on the Irish harp’, Music & Letters xxiv, April 1943

It’s not clear to me if Byrne meant that Sam Patrick was a “bad harper” in terms of musicianship or behaviour.

Arthur O’Neil

Arthur O’Neil (who died in 1816) had been the master of the Irish Harp Society from 1808 to 1812, and had taught Valentine Rainey there. It looks like Rainey had inherited his teacher O’Neil’s harp which would have been an interesting 18th century antique, perhaps the harp shown in the portrait of Arthur O’Neil.

I wonder if Rainey’s wife was perhaps acting as a kind of house-keeper for the Harp Society house, and if her absence meant that the house was not running – the fires not being lit, the food not being served, etc. We know that Rainey himself was sometimes away; at the end of August 1836 he went back to where he had grown up in the Glens of Antrim for “a few days” (Belfast Commercial Chronicle Sat 3 Sep 1836 p2). But really we don’t know.

New teacher

Rainey died on 23rd September 1837, which was a great blow to the Irish Harp Society school. The Gentlemen of the Committee held a meeting two weeks later, on 7th October, and we have a printed letter which was sent out afterwards by the secretary John McAdam to the Gentlemen Subscribers. (Linen Hall Library, Belfast, Beath Collection box 6). McAdam writes “For a number of years back, the state of Mr Rennie’s health prevented him paying the necessary attention to the musical education of the blind boys under his care…” He also noted that “there only remains from the Old Committee a few individuals…” At the meeting it was suggested that “this was a favourable opportunity for regenerating the Society, by giving the management to a new and younger class of citizen”, and resolved that if anyone should step forward (as new Gentlemen committee members) to continue the work of the Society, “the House, Furniture and Harps shall remain at their disposal”. Another meeting was called for 13th Oct 1837 but we seem to have no record of what was discussed.

Jackson was appointed as teacher, to take Rainey’s place, but I don’t know exactly when. Presumably it was in November or December 1837, or perhaps from the beginning of 1838. I haven’t yet properly researched Jackson. He is sometimes called James and sometimes Alexander, but I am sure they are both the same man. His obituary says he was “one of the last of the pupils that had been taught at the Belfast Harp Society” (Banner of Ulster, 18 July 1857 p2). The engraver Thomas Smythe remembered Rainey being succeeded by “Jackson, his pupil” (Ulster Journal of Archaeology, vol vii no. 1, Jan 1901 p6).

Extinguishing Bochsa

We have an interesting anecdote which appears to describe Samuel Patrick and his classmates going to hear the famous pedal harp virtuoso Bochsa performing in Belfast, though it doesn’t name any of the boys. Boscha was performing in Belfast in May 1839:

Theatre, Belfast
Great Musical Attraction
On FRIDAY and SATURDAY, the 3d and 4th of May
The celebrated and popular Vocalist, Primo Soprano of the Philharmonic and Ancient Concerts, London, and acknowledged, by all musical judges, to be the first English Concert singer of the day.
(Sister of Mrs. H. R. Bishop) Pianiste of the Nobility’s Concerts, London, and
The Greatest Harpist in the World!
will sing some of her most favourite Arias, Ballads, &c. in English and Italian
Will Perform on the HARP (for the first time) the following Pieces, introducing all his new celebrated Harp effects, and his Sympathetic Metallic Basses, which give the Harp a power hitherto unknown.
I. Mosaique Musicale:
consisting of an Introduction – Cantabile – Tema di Bellini, con variazioni – the admired Scotch Air, “Auld Robin Gray,” and the celebrated Galop from Beniowsky, composed by MR. BOCHSA.
II. Characteristic Morceau D’Apropos,
The Garland of Shamrocks;
or, Homage of a modern Harpist to the Ancient Irish Bards; introducing the following Irish airs: – “The Red Fox,” “Rory O’More,” “Crooghan-a-venee,” “Gramachree,” “Nancy Dawson,” and “St. Patrick’s Day;” with other Musical and Dramatic Entertainments; of which full particulars will be duly given.

Belfast Commercial Chronicle, Mon 29 Apr 1839 p2

Bochsa’s advertisement is a very interesting description of a completely different musical world from the Society boys – a classical harpist, situating himself in the world of Italian and classical pedal harp music, and yet thinking that he could come to Belfast to present an “homage” to “the ancient Irish bards”.

I think Bochsa would not have imagined that a group of young traditional Irish harp students would be sitting in the audience critiquing his performance of these classical pastiches of traditional Irish tunes:

The name of Bachsa in a recent advertisement reminds me that when he was here a great many years ago, and gave concerts in the Theatre, the Irish Harp Society was then in existence in this town, and all the pupils of the society went to hear him. I knew one of them well, and asked him his opinion of Bachsa’s performance. He said – “If I had gone on the stage and played after him, the people would have thought very little of Mr. Bachsa”.

D. H., letter ‘The Harp Festival’, Belfast News Letter Friday 6 April 1877 p3

D.H. doesn’t tell us the harper’s name, but we can try and guess who it was. D.H. gives other background information about this un-named harper’s movements (see below), and I have checked my big list of harpers, and the only one who seems to fit is Samuel Patrick.

I’m assuming the boys went to hear Bochsa in May 1839; at that time, Jackson was the master of the Irish Harp Society. He was a traditional Irish harper with a lineage back through Rainey to Arthur O’Neill. But Jackson is also said to have played pedal harp, and been a piano-tuner, so it is possible that Jackson the teacher thought it would be good for the boys to hear Bochsa play; or it may have been the idea of the Gentlemen of the Committee who organised for the boys to go to the concert in May 1839.

Winding up the Irish Harp Society

The Secretary of the Irish Harp Society, John McAdam, wrote to Edward Bunting in July 1839, presumably just after a meeting of the Committee. He says “After the first of August we shall have only two boys”, and he names one of them as William Murphy. (I wrote up this letter a few months back)

We can read between the lines; in the first half of 1839 there were probably three or four pupils studying at the Harp Society school under Jackson, but we don’t know their names. The Gentlemen of the Committee would have met in July 1839 for their half-yearly meeting, and they would have inspected the progress of the students, and they would have resolved to discharge the others, but to keep on with William Murphy and the other boy.

We have two hints that Sam Patrick was the other pupil who carried on alongside William Murphy. According to the engraver Thomas Smythe, “the last pupil that he remembers was Samuel Patrick, whose brother was an engraver, a shopmate of his own” (UJA 1901). Also, Samuel Patrick’s obituary says that he “remained there until the school was broken up”.

McAdam’s letter says “the funds will be exhausted about the first of February next” i.e. 1st February 1840. We don’t have any information about the end of the Society, but it seems reasonable to imagine William Murphy and Samuel Patrick being discharged on 1st February 1840, and the Society being officially wound up.

Samuel Patrick’s obituary says “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…” If the Society was being wound up, the easy assumption to make is that Sam Patrick was given one of the harps belonging to the Society, rather than the Society having to pay for a new harp to be made for him. We will discuss this later.

So that was it; by Spring 1840, Samuel Patrick’s education was finished, and he was out on his own with his harp, to make a living as a professional or “artisan” traditional Irish harper.

Performing in the South

There is a big hole in our knowledge of what Samuel Patrick was doing between his discharge from the Irish Harp Society school in or around early 1840, and his return to Belfast in the mid 1860s. I haven’t found any newspaper reports or anything about him from this period. We have two later statements about this time, but they are contradictory or confusing. The first is his obituary, written many years later after he was dead:

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 an hotel at Greenore, and he remained there for fifteen years.

Obituary, Belfast News Letter, 23 March 1888 p7

This all looks very straightforward, except that in the 1850s and 60s Greenore was just fields. The Railway Hotel was not built until about 1875, too late for Sam Patrick to have plausibly worked there. So I don’t understand this at all.

McComb’s account is slightly different.

… – was taught to play on the harp by Rainey, in the Harp Society, Cromac Street – remained there five years, and then travelled for twenty years in the South of Ireland, earning a livelihood…

William McComb, letter in Belfast News-Letter, Tue 8 Mar 1864 p4

What does “remained there five years” mean? It could mean he was five years in the Harp Society school, say from 1834 to 1840. Or does it mean he remained in Belfast for five years after being discharged, from 1840 to 1845? That would match what the obituary tells us, that he didn’t head down to Dublin until 1845. But if he then remained for twenty years in the South, that would put his return to Belfast in 1865, whereas we see him working in Belfast already in the summer of 1863. I think these numbers are all a bit vague and approximate, and the best that we can say is that he may have worked in Belfast for a few years in the early 1840s, and then in the mid 40s he went South, and worked in hotels in Dublin and maybe other places until the early 60s.

If we believe that Samuel Patrick was the harper that D.H. knew, who “said he could extinguish Bachsa” (Belfast News Letter Friday 6 April 1877 p3), then we could use D.H.’s other information to tell us about Sam Patrick’s time in the South:

… This Irish harper left this town some time after on a concert-giving tour with a violinist then in this town called Millioli, and disappeared for years; but not very long since I met him here, and if desired I can, I think, tell where he may be found …

D. H., letter ‘The Harp Festival’, Belfast News Letter Friday 6 April 1877 p3

I did some digging to try and find Millioli. I found a series of newspaper advertisements. He first appears in Edinburgh in 1817, performing a concert with two Neapolitan harpists (Caledonian Mercury 7 Aug 1817 p1); a concert review in England says “Mr. M’s performance on the violin is spirited, and his tone clear and distinct, but he does not appear to understand the business of arranging an orchestra, or the art of keeping up the attention of his audience…” (Hull Advertiser, 7 May 1824 p3). I find him in Dublin from 1826, playing every evening in the Anchor Tavern accompanied by a harper (Dublin Morning Register, 18 Feb 1826 p2) or by a cellist (Freeman’s Journal, 31 Mar 1827 p1). In the late 1830s he was in Belfast, advertising concerts with sob stories attached; for one Belfast concert he had broken his leg in a Dublin coach accident (Northern Whig 18 May 1837 p3) and for another he had lost all his posessions in a Dublin fire (Belfast Commercial Chronicle 8 Nov 1837 p2).

Milioli is usually said to be Swiss, but sometimes Italian. His full name is sometimes given as “Signor Giachino Milioli”. As well as the usual classical violin repertory, Milioli seems to have been particularly interested in playing Irish music. “His style of playing Irish melodies, cantabile as well as affetuoso, is chaste, with exquisite taste and feeling… In some of these airs, he added his own embellishments, shaking in 3rds, sometimes stopping in unisons, and giving to the melodies the harmony throughout…” (Belfast Newsletter 28 Nov 1837 p2)

So did Milioli recruit the young Samuel Patrick in about 1845, and take him to Dublin to work together in the hotels? I have found no adverts for any of this from the 1840s or 50s.

Return to Belfast

Samuel Patrick’s obituary says “He returned to Belfast in 1868” but I think 1868 may be a misprint or typo for 1863, because McComb’s report written in 1864 says he was back in Belfast already the previous year, i.e. 1863.

I think the main reason he came back to Belfast was because of his health; he was suffering a lot with his eyes.

Blindness and treatments

William McComb, writing in 1864, gives details.

… The extreme pain in one of his eyes induced him to consult a celebrated oculist in Dublin for relief, which soon exhausted all his means, and at last he was under the necessity of pawning his harp for 30s. With this sum he came to Belfast, and by the kindness of a few friends the instrument was restored to him. During the past summer he was earning from 8s to 10s a week by playing in the conservatory on the Queen’s Island. The extreme heat of the house, however, affected his eyes; and for the last two months, through the kind services of Dr. Browne, he was admitted into the hospital, where, by the skill and unwearied attention of that gentleman, the tender eye is likely to be restored to, at least, partial sight …

William McComb, letter in Belfast News-Letter, Tue 8 Mar 1864 p4

The obituary has more information about his blindness and treatment, both from before and after the episodes described above by McComb (though as I said the date 1868 is obviously wrong).

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-doloreaux, for which he was treated in the Royal Hospital, left him again totally, and this time permanently, deprived of sight.

Obituary, Belfast News Letter, 23 March 1888 p7

Religion and Temperance

A lot of the harpers in the later 19th century seem to have connections with the temperance movement. Sometimes I think this may have been opportunistic, in that they would work for whoever would pay them to play; but in Sam Patrick’s case it may have been though evangelical religious conviction. McComb writes:

… He is a man of respectable appearance, and strictly sober habits – is now in very poor circumstances, and unwilling to seek employment in low public houses and dancing saloons. Would it not be a kind act for families to employ him occasionally in their evening parties? – I am, &c., WM. M’COMB. 7th March, 1864.

William McComb, letter in Belfast News-Letter, Tue 8 Mar 1864 p4

The reason McComb knew Samuel Patrick, is that Sam Patrick was attending a bible study class that McComb was teaching at a “Sunday school for the blind”. In the classes, McComb was teaching blind people to read; he specifically mentions the gospels of St John and St Luke. They were using books with “raised characters”. I don’t know if this would be some form of Braille, or just embossed letters.

Performing in the public parks

I think Samuel Patrick’s need to make a living, and his refusal to get work playing in “low public houses and dancing saloons”, is what prompted him to find a niche for himself playing in public parks. McComb says

During the past summer he was earning from 8s to 10s a week by playing in the conservatory on the Queen’s Island.

William McComb, letter in Belfast News-Letter, Tue 8 Mar 1864 p4

This would be the summer of 1863. According to this would be the equivalent of earning £300 to £400 a week nowadays.

Queen’s Island is the reclaimed land in Belfast Docks, where the Harland and Wolff shipyard and the Titanic Quarter now stand; back then it was a public park with a “crystal palace”, a large public building made of cast iron and glass, a bit like a giant conservatory.

A big problem with these Crystal palaces was that in the summer the sun would shine through the glass and make the inside of the building unbearably hot; apparently awnings and shades were put over the glass to try and keep the building cool. McComb mentions “the extreme heat of the house” affecting Sam Patrick’s eyes; I would think it would also affect the tuning of his harp!

The crystal palace was destroyed by fire in January 1864.

The Botanic Gardens

The obituary mentions that Sam Patrick played in the Botanic Gardens. It says that

He had the special permission of the custodians of all those places…

Obituary, Belfast News Letter, 23 March 1888 p7

He was not earning loads of money playing in the Queen’s Island park, but he was making a living. After the crystal palace burned at the start of 1864, he may have kept going outside at the Queen’s Island. The information from the engraver Thomas Smythe (UJA 1901) says “When the Queen’s Island was a park, Samuel Patrick had a small hut on it, in which he gave performances on the harp, and he also played in the Botanic Gardens”.

Or perhaps the Botanic Gardens seemed an obvious place to try and continue, since it also had a similar iron-framed glass building, the famous palm house which still stands today.

Botanic Gardens Palm House, Belfast. © Robert Young, 2004, cc-by-sa (used under license)
Botanic Gardens Palm House, Belfast. Photo © Robert Young, 2004, cc-by-sa (used under license). My header image shows a detail of the Palm House, photo © Ardfern, 2019, cc-by-sa (used under license)

Actually I don’t have any information about whether Sam Patrick played inside the Palm House; the obituary mentions “open air performances” so it is possible he played outside, or had a little hut somewhere in the Botanic Gardens.

Either way, Sam Patrick was at the Botanic Gardens every day playing his harp to earn a living.

The Royal visit

Prince Arthur in 1869

On Saturday 1st May 1869, Prince Arthur (son of Queen Victoria) visited Belfast, and the Botanic Gardens was included on his itinerary.

HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS PRINCE ARTHUR will visit these grounds at Two o’clock p.m.
There will be a Promenade and Show of RHODODENDRONS, sent for exhibition by L. T. DAVIS, of Hillsborough.
By permission of Colonel THOMSON, the BAND of the 54th Regiment will attend.
SAMUEL PATRICK, the BLIND IRISH HARPER (who Performs Daily in the Gardens), will Accompany himself on the Irish Harp in a SONG to welcome the Prince.
Gardens Open to the Public at One o’clock.
Admission to be at both Gates.
Admission to Shareholders’ and Subscribers’ Tickets, 6d each (if purchased on or before Friday); Children, Half-price.
Tickets to be had from the Secretary, 51, WARING STREET, and from the Gatekeeper at the Gardens.
Tickets to Non-Subscribers and Subscribers after Friday, One Shilling. Children under 12, Half-price.
No change will be given at the doors.
Refreshments will be had at the Gardens.
Subscriptions now due, and received Daily at the Secretary’s Office, 51, WARING STREET, corner of Victoria Street.

Belfast News Letter, Tue 27th April 1869

Similar adverts ran during the week before the event; there seems to have been great excitement in Belfast about the Royal visit with many preparations being made. Tenders for refreshments were still being sought on Thursday 29th, and the gardens were closed on Friday 30th April to allow for preparations. Finally, Saturday 1st May came, and Samuel Patrick had his moment performing in the presence of Royalty. I think that Prince Arthur did not linger in the Botanic Gardens but was whisked away to his next engagement, but I am sure the paying crowds stayed on and enjoyed their day.

THE following lines were composed by our townsman, Mr. McComb, for Samuel Patrick, the Blind Harper, who attends the Botanic Gardens. The costume of Sam, and his instrumental and vocal performances, were objects of great attraction on the occasion of Prince Arthur’s visit on Saturday last:

The harp! Old Erin’s harp alone
Is fit for Royal ear:
Its melody awakes the soul,
And drives away the tear.
The first of May, O happy day!
This natal day we hail!
Welcome, Prince Arthur, to Belfast,
The joy of Innisfail.

Awake, awake, O island harp!
Send forth the voice of song –
Now plaintive as the cooing dove,
And now in wild notes strong.
Bard! strike the chords and raise the song,
And hail Prince Arthur near!
Raise up the loud huzza, and shout
Our Queen and Arthur dear!

God bless the Queen! Long may she live
Our glory and our fame!
O, was it not right good in her
To give thee Patrick’s name?
It showed she loved Old Ireland –
St. Patrick loved it, too:
A Queen and Saint to love us both –
Joy, joy, and whillaloo!

Royal Botanic Gardens, Belfast,
1st May, 1869.

Belfast News Letter, Wed 5th May 1869 p3

At first I was thinking that this was the song that Samuel Patrick sung when the Prince was visiting, but now I am thinking it is more likely that this poem was written by Mr. McComb on the Saturday as his reaction to seeing the harper and the crowds and the Prince. I wonder if this is William McComb who taught Sam Patrick at the Sunday School?

I also note the mention of Sam Patrick’s costume. I think he would likely have been dressed up in robes, a bit like the blanket photos of Patrick Byrne from 1845. He may also have had a funny pointed hat, like the harpers who played for O’Connell’s processions, or a long grey wig, like Begley wore.

Living with his sister

Perhaps about this time, in the late 1860s or early 1870s, Samuel Patrick’s sister seems to have been widowed, and she moved in with her brother, who supported her from his earnings working as a harper for the rest of his life. They would both have been around 50 years old at this time. According to his obituary, Sam Patrick’s sister was called Margaret Johnston. I have not found any information about her husband Mr. Johnston.

Other events in Belfast

There is a couple of reports of a harper “named Patrick” playing at an exhibition. I don’t know if the harper was Samuel Patrick, or Patrick Murney. This is more the kind of event that Murney was doing at this time. But I think the newspaper is more likely to be using his surname, and so this may be more likely Samuel Patrick.

FINE ARTS EXHIBITION – The receipts of yesterday show a steady increase in the number of visitors attending daily. In addition to the attraction of the Exhibition itself, the Roman Catholic Band discoursed sweet music during the evening. The committee have engaged an Irish harper well known in Belfast, who played and sang a variety of Irish music. We notice also that some more contributions and articles of vertu have been added. A more pleasant evening could not be spent anywhere than at the exhibition. Mr. Lee performed a few pieces on the splendid American organ which he is exhibiting.

Belfast News Letter, Friday 24 Nov 1871 p3

EXHIBITION OF FINE ARTS, &c. – Last evening, the Conservative Band, under the efficient leadership of Mr. Ballard, performed a number of selections in excellent style. We believe Mr. Ballard is arranging a number of new pieces, to be performed on future occasion. An Irish harper named Patrick performs Irish airs on the harp in the picture gallery. The Springfield Band will be in attendance this evening.

Belfast News Letter, Saturday 25 Nov 1871 p3

Ormeau Park

Sam Patrick’s obituary mentions him playing in the Queen’s Island, and the Botanic Gardens, “and latterly in the Ormeau Park”. I don’t know why he might have stopped working in the Botanic Gardens; it is possible that there was a change of management, or that he could earn more in the Ormeau Park.

Ormeau Park opened in 1871 and so perhaps it was just a new opportunity and there were more people there.

Or, seeing as how we have a reference to Pat Murney playing in the Ormeau Park in 1875, perhaps Sam Patrick took over Pat Murney’s pitch some time after that, if Murney stopped playing in the park.

The harper George Jackson had a bit of information about Samuel Patrick playing in the parks. This is the information that William Savage wrote down from Jackson’s dictation in about 1908, when Jackson was stringing the harp that Savage had made. Savage’s rough notes, perhaps live dictation from Jackson, are a bit too terse to be useful:

Sam Patrick

National Museum of Ireland, Arts and Industry division archive file AI.80.019

However, perhaps in or after 1911, Savage made an expanded version of his notes and he wrote

Samuel Patrick -. Played at Queens Island and Ormeau Park

National Museum of Ireland, Arts and Industry division archive file AI.80.019

I transcribed this document and discussed it in a post last year.

Playing in a Temperance restaurant

Sam Patrick’s obituary says

…of late years he had to give up open-air performances, but until a few weeks of his death he was to be found regularly at “The Bridge,” the well-known temperance restaurant in Ann Street,

Obituary, Belfast News Letter, 23 March 1888 p7

This would be in the early to mid 1880s. I can’t work out exactly where this temperance restaurant was, though it was obviously at the end of Ann Street near to the Queen’s Bridge. I checked the street directories; in 1907 “The Bridge” Temperance Hotel was run by Mrs Robinson at 110 Ann Street. You can see her living at 110 in the 1901 census, and she is named in the obituary in 1888 (see below). But in the directories for 1880 and 1890 there is no mention of Mrs Robinson or a temperance restaurant. Thomas McMurtry had a bakery there in 1880, and Joseph Mitchell had a family grocer in 1890. So I don’t quite understand this. Perhaps Mrs Robinson was running the Temperance Hotel in the 1880s as a side-business upstairs from McMurtry’s bakery shop. However, it is also possible that it was just across the road; in 1907, the dining rooms at 110 were run by J.B. Clotworthy, and in 1880 and 1890 I see that Clotworthys were trading on the other side of the road at 83 Ann Street, which I think is the vacant site to the right of the big handsome pale brick Riddel’s warehouse. Perhaps Mrs Robinson was running her Temperance Hotel from 83 in the 1880s, and moved across the road in the 1890s. I really don’t know.

I find this interesting because playing every day at a hotel or tavern seems to have been a normal way for the 19th century traditional harpers to make a living, and it is kind of nice to see that Samuel Patrick had managed to accommodate his “strictly sober habits” by getting a job playing in a Temperance hotel.


Poor Patrick died in very reduced circumstances after a long illness…

Obituary, Belfast News Letter, 23 March 1888 p7

His death certificate says that he died on 30th January 1888, at 3 Renwick Street, which is off Sandy Row, down the right hand side of Sandy Row Orange Hall. Was this where he was living? This is about 25 minutes walk from “The Bridge” temperance restaurant at the end of Ann Street.

His name is given as Samuel Patrick, male, Bachelor, aged 63 years, musician, cause of death bronchitis and debility (1 month), and the informant was Ellen Brown of 9 Renwick Street who was present at his death.

I checked the 1901 census for Renwick Place (I think that’s the same road) but there’s no sign of his sister or of Ellen Brown. But that was 13 years later.

These wee houses are not there any more, only the orange hall and the backs of modern buildings.

His bereaved sister

…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…

Obituary, Belfast News Letter, 23 March 1888 p7

I don’t know if Margaret managed to enter Clifton House or not.

His harp

The obituary continues about the sister’s poverty.

…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 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.

Obituary, Belfast News Letter, 23 March 1888 p7

So, after Samuel Patrick died, his harp was at “The Bridge” Temperance Hotel. Perhaps he left it there every night, and just walked in every day and sat and played it, so after he fell ill and died it was just sitting in the corner.

TICKETS MAY BE HAD FROM MRS. ROBINSON, “THE BRIDGE”, ANN STREET, Price Sixpence Each, for RAFFLE of a HARP, the Property of the late SAMUEL PATRICK, the last survivor of the old Irish Harpers. for the Benefit of his sister, Mrs Margaret Johnston. See notice in News-Letter This Day.

Belfast News-Letter, Sat 24 Mar 1888 p4

It is a very common trope from the 18th century onwards to claim that a person is the last of the harpers. If we check my list of harpers, we see that there were at least five harpers still alive after Samuel Patrick died, three of them professional or artisans like Samuel Patrick and two of them amateurs. Patrick Murney and the amateur George Jackson were in Belfast; Roger Begley was in England; the amateur Peter Dowdall was in Drogheda, and Paul Smith was in Dublin. Never claim to be the first or last at anything!

Anyway, the harp was raffled. They would have to sell a lot of tickets at 6d each to make a good price.

Samuel Patrick’s obituary says “On leaving the school he was presented by the committee with a harp which was the companion of his life…” I suggested above that, since he was one of the very last pupils, and the Society seems to have been wound up when he was discharged, probably at the beginning of 1840, it seemed to me possible that instead of the Committee paying for a new harp for him, he might simply have been presented with one of the harps owned by the Society which had been used in the Harp Society house for the teaching.

Harp made for the Irish Harp Society by John Egan, early 1820s. Photo from Armstrong 1904
Egan harp no.1933. Photo from Armstrong 1904

One of the harps that belonged to the Irish harp Society was made in the early 1820s by John Egan, the famous Dublin harp maker. It had a painted lettering on the soundboard, stating that it had been “MANUFACTURED FOR / THE BELFAST / IRISH-HARP / SOCIETY / No.1933 // by J. EGAN, / DUBLIN / HARP MAKER / to His MAJESTY / GEORGE IV / AND THE ROYAL FAMILY” (transcription from Nancy Hurrell, The Egan Irish Harps, 2009, p91). This harp is now in the National Museum of Ireland; it was given to the Museum by the harp historian Robert Bruce Armstrong. The photo shows him sitting with it, from his 1904 book The Irish and the Highland harps, and he describes the harp on pages 105-7. He says he bought it in Dublin.

I found an advertisement:

BEAUTIFUL Harp, by I Egan, made for Belfast Irish Harp Society in the reign of King George IV; in excellent condition; only £30. Address, for particulars, 1395, Freeman Office.

Freemans Journal, 12 April 1890 p1

I think this must be the harp that Armstrong bought. It was advertised for sale in Dublin two years after the raffle. Is this Samuel Patrick’s harp? Or is it just a co-incidence?

9 thoughts on “Samuel Patrick”

  1. Once again, thank you, Simon, for this forensic investigation into the life and times of Samuel Patrick.

    Your work is like the enfleshing of the dry bones we read about in Ezekiel, truly inspired.

    God bless you and yours,

    Bill Romansky

  2. I managed to consult a copy of Eileen Black’s book The People’s Park (Linen Hall Library 1988) which is a history of Queen’s Island. It has a lot of details about the Crystal Palace and the entertainments that went on in it.

    By the early 1860s it seems to have housed a menagerie and exotic plants. You could have your photo taken.

    The book also includes some images of the palace, including an interior photograph. You can see the Crystal Palace bottom right in Connop’s birds-eye view of Belfast (c.1863); and you can also see the Crystal Palace in Wilson’s Emigrant Ship leaving Belfast (1852)

  3. Bravo, Simon!

    I just can’t get enough of this stuff.

    I’m so happy to become acquainted with Patrick, the ‘bad harper’ and arsonist. And I’m thrilled to discover that he seems to have had a life — four hundred quid a week may not be a fortune but in my book it doesn’t qualify for “eking out a living.” It makes it seem as if he gave a lot of people a lot of joy. These ‘outliers’ from the Society School kind of did okay, didn’t they? Those “gentlemen benefactors” (with the notable exception of Dr James MacDonnell) seem to have been a rather joyless bunch, so stern, like a bunch of crabby do-gooders. What a shame they couldn’t have hung in for another decade or two. It might have made all the difference.

    What fun — all the blind boys going to that concert — and ever more fancy dress — Yay!

  4. Sam Patrick’s obituary references a mention of the Irish harp Society in Simms & McIntyre’s Northern or Belfast Almanac for the year 1839. I managed to get a copy of the page via Belfast Central Library. It is p55. It looks to me like this text was written in the second half of 1838, and so it gives us a nice snapshot of what was going on in the Society management and operations between the October 1837 meetings (after Rainey had died) and the July 1839 letter about the decline of the Society.

    Instituted for the support and musical education of destitute blind boys. Supported for many years past from a fund raised by the exertions 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 increase the number of pupils.
    Mr John M’Adam, Secretary.

  5. Another fascinating piece – thanks again Simon for researching and sharing this great info. on the life of Samuel Patrick. Looking forward to more!

    David T

  6. In my write-up of the Harp Society’s premises in Cromac Street and subsequently in Talbot Street, I wondered if I was wrong to assume that Samuel Patrick was discharged in 1840. He could have been discharged at the end of 1838, when the harp school left the Cromac Street premises.

    I found a description of Sam Patrick playing and singing the song for Prince Arthur. The article describes how Prince Arthur inspected the conservatory and other buildings and then:

    Leaving these, he was conducted across the lawn to where, under the shady branches of a tree, and surrounded by a large crowd, sat a blind harper named Samuel Patrick, who daily performs in the gardens. As it was announced that a poem written for the occasion would be sung by the old man while he gave the accompaniment on his instrument, the progress of the Prince towards this spot was watched with interest. As he approached, the harper – to the tune of “Molly Asthore” – commenced singing the following verses, from the pen of Wm. M‘Comb, Esq., a townsman whose poetic genius is well known:-
        The Harp, Old Erin’s Harp alone
        Is fit for royal ear,
    …[the full text of the poem is printed here]
        Joy, joy, and whillaloo!
    The poem was sung, but not a word of it was heard by Prince Arthur, who could neither get within sight or hearing of the hoary minstrel, in consequence of the great crush of spectators. His Royal Highness then crossed over to the show of rhododendrons…
    Northern Whig, Mon 3 May 1869 p3

    “Molly Asthore” is the tune used by Tom Moore for his song “THe Harp that Once through Tara’s Halls”, and it was a staple of the traditional harpers through the 19th century. They had presumably got the tune through their lineages of teaching back to the 18th century harpers, who we know played versions of the tune. I wrote up the 18th century sources as part of my Transcriptions project.

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