We have a few references to a harper called Rennie in the 1840s. He is obviously a different person from the famous Valentine Rennie who died in 1837.
I don’t know anything about Mr. Rennie apart from these newspaper reports of him performing in the South-East with Mr. O’Connor. I am putting him here so that we can keep an eye on him, and so that we can add any new information that turns up.
We can find off-hand references in these reports that give us a tiny bit to work on. One newspaper says Rennie is “of Belfast” so perhaps he was born in the town. Another reference describes the two harpers O’Connor and Rennie as being “from the Belfast Institution”. My best guess is that Rennie may have been a student of Valentine Rennie in Belfast in the late 1820s or early to mid 1830s, studying full time to learn the traditional wire-strung Irish harp, as a preparation for a life as a professional or “artisan” traditional harper. Rennie and O’Connor may have been classmates at the same time, or Rennie may have been a bit younger. We are missing so much of the Harp Society records from the mid ’20s through to the end in 1839-40. You can check my timeline of 19th century Irish harpers to see who was around at that time. I imagine two new pupils may have been admitted to the harp school in Belfast in most years from 1822 through to 1838 or so, and so e can guess that there are perhaps as many as 20 harp students unaccounted for in the records.
I wondered for a minute if Rennie might have been Valentine Rennie’s son. But the son was only 6½ years old when Valentine Rennie died in September 1837 – too young to have been learning the harp I think. And you would think if our Mr. Rennie did have that family connection he would have boasted about it in his adverts.
I have already done a post on O’Connor which includes all of these news reports. But we will go through them again here, trying to concentrate not on the high-profile front man Mr. O’Connor, but on his more modest companion, Mr. Rennie.
Performing with O’Connor in the South-West, 1844
We first meet Mr. Rennie in Killarney, performing with Mr O’Connor during the Killarney Races. O’Connor had previously been working with Martin Craney, who had died (as mentioned in the newspaper). Perhaps O’Connor was looking for someone else to pair up with.
Anyway, O’Connor got together with Mr. Rennie; and Mr. Rennie is obviously new to this concert scene though O’Connor is “known to many of our readers”.
I think this ball was on Wednesday 14th August 1844.
BALL AT THE HIBERNIAN HOTELSouthern Reporter and Cork Commercial Courier, Tue 20 Aug 1844 p4
A very elegant ball, got up, by the energetic Stewards, at this quiet and comfortable hotel, at a few hour’s notice, terminated the amusements of this day. In the twirling of an ancle, the commodious ball-room was tastefully fitted up for the occasion, and an admirable and abundant supper was served up. The party consisted of about ninety, who kept up the merry dance, to the excellent music of the Assembly Room Temperance Band, till morning. A very agreeable feature in this ball was, the presence of the celebrated Irish Harpists Connor and Renny; the former known to many of our readers as the brother in song of the exquisite Crenny, whose harp is now silent in the grave. Ireland’s sweetest songs, on Ireland’s own harp, were listened to with delight, and if the eyes whose power of vision, by one of these strange phenomena which sometimes exhibit themselves in our moral and physical constitution, has merged in a more transcendant and intense faculty of the ear, could have opened for a moment to perception, they would have seen many a fair bosom beat high, and many an eye grow brighter, as those matchless strains came speaking from the strings.
The reference to the eyes implies that both Renny and O’Connor were blind.
South-East Ireland, 1845
The following year, we find the duo touring around the south-east, starting in Clonmel.
A CARDTipperary Free Press, Wed 6 Aug 1845 p3
Messrs. O’CONNOR & RENNY,
PROFESSORS OF THE IRISH HARP,
BEG respectfully to to return their sincere thanks to the Ladies and Gentlemen of Clonmel and its Vicinity, for the kind patronage bestowed on them at their recent Concert, and to announce that by particular desire they intend to give another Concert on FRIDAY EVENING next.
The time, place and Programme will be announced in the Bills of the day.
We are missing so much of the story because I have only found these occasional articles. I am sure there are more news clippings I have not seen. But it is also clear that a lot of information never got as far as the newspapers. It is possible that they never advertised their first concert, but just had handbills printed and distributed in the town. These kind of printed ephemera almost never survive; I only know of one single surviving handbill advertising a harp concert (one of Patrick Byrne’s).
Anyway, a couple of weeks later they performed in Tramore. I haven’t an advert for this one, only a brief editorial notice, but the description seems very vivid and genuine. I think the Tramore concert was on 25th August 1845.
IRISH MUSIC.Waterford Chronicle, Wed 27 Aug 1845, p2
We had the great pleasure of hearing Messrs. O’CONNOR and RENNY, the celebrated harpists from the Belfast Institution, on last Monday night, in the Court-house of Tramore. We have never heard men deprived of sight, so accurate in musical performance. They perform sweetly, indeed, and sublime. Mr. O’CONNOR has a strong mellifluous voice, deep and powerful. We rejoice to find that these gentlemen intend visiting Waterford on Friday next, when their arrival will, we are sure, be hailed with a cead mille faltha. – (See Advertisement).
The advertisement for the Waterford concert is printed on the next page:
GRANDWaterford Chronicle, Wed 27 Aug 1845, p3
By permission and under the patronage of the Right Worshipful Sir Benjamin Morris Wall
MESSRS. O’CONNOR AND RENNY,
PROFESSORS of the Irish Harp, from the Belfast Institution, beg respectfully to inform the Nobility, Clergy, Gentry, and other inhabitants of Waterford and its Vicinity that they will give a Concert at the Town Hall on Friday Evening, August 29, when there will be performed a rich selection of Music, consisting of Irish, Scotch, and Welch Airs, both Harps accompanying each other.
Messrs. O’Connor and Renny, who are endeavouring to re[cusi]tate and revive the National Music of their Country, confidentl[y] appeal to the lovers of the national instrument in Clonmel, for their patronage and support.
Reserved Seats .. .. 2s.
Back Seats .. .. 1s.
Children half price.
Doors open at Eight, to commence at half-past Eight o’clock.
☞ An Amateur Band will be in attendance.
Tickets to be had at the Bar of the Commercial Hotel, at Mr. Howards Music Warehouse, and at the CHRONICLE OFFICE.
There is an interesting error in this advert which gives us a clue to how the blind harpers organised their tours. Given that they have come from doing concerts in Clonmel, and are advertising to the people of Waterford, I assume they meant to “appeal to the lovers of the national instrument in Waterford”. However it looks like they just re-used a press release from the Clonmel concert! It would be easy to just use the same text, and change the date and venue at the top, and the ticket sales info at the bottom, and completely miss the mention of the town in the middle. Perhaps this advert shows us what the text of the Clonmel handbills may have been.
Actually this is a very interesting text for many reasons. The way they talk about reviving the national music is interesting. We also recognise the “Irish Scotch and Welch Airs” as a stock phrase which I think first appears in teacher Edward McBride’s report to the Irish Harp Society committee in August 1821, before these boys’ time.
The day after this concert in Waterford, there was a brief review in the newspaper:
THE IRISH HARPERSThe Chronicle and Munster Advertiser, Fri 30 Aug 1845
These gentlemen acquitted themselves in the most exquisite manner last night, at the Town Hall. It is a pity that in consequence of the shortness of the notice, these worthy followers of CAROLAN were not supported by the nationalists of the city. We understand they are to remain for another night – would it not be even prudent for those who run after all foreign and foolish amusement, to go and listen to the sounds of the harp, and learn how Irish harpers
—- “Once played and sung.”
On Monday 8th September we catch a glimpse of them performing at a religious and temperance function in the town hall. A very long article about the evening was printed in the newspapers. It is a very interesting insight into how an evening like this was run. There are a lot of toasts and speeches. However, we will concentrate on the sections that describe our harpers.
TEMPERANCE SOIREEWaterford Chronicle, Wed 10 Sep 1845 p2-3
On Monday evening a Soiree was held in the Town Hall by the friends of Temperance to celebrate the occasion of the laying of the foundation stone of the Rice Testimonial as well as to encourage teetotalism in this city …
… [After a long list of the people who were there, starting with the mayor, the report continues] …
… The greatest attraction of the evening was the performance of the celebrated Irish harpers, Messrs. O’Connor and Rennie, who enlivened the house with the sweet sounds of Erin’s harp, carrying the mind back to the days of ancient chivalry and song…
… [next there were letters sent in by people who could not be there, and then a speech by the chairman, who continued with toasts:] …
…The Irish have always been a loyal people – history proclaims it – and their loyalty has not been conditional, but settled and disinterested, as can be proved by their loss of life and property in sustainment of legitimate succession. I give you the health of “her Majesty Queen Victoria.”
Next toast –
“Prince Albert, the Prince of Wales, and the rest of the Royal Family.”
CHAIRMAN – The next toast on the list is that of the Bishop and Clergy of this diocese (cheers) … [a short speech in praise of the Catholic clergy] … Allow me, then, to propose the health and happiness of the Right Rev. Dr. Foran, and the Clergy of this diocese.
Drunk with great appla[u]se, the harps playing Venite Adoremus, in most exquisite style.
… [a very long speech on religion which covers almost two columns of the newspaper] …
… CHAIRMAN. – I will now give you the opportunity of hearing Mr. Meagher. The next toast is calculated to elicit the most enthusiastic reception – our native land – Ireland as she ought to be, great, glorious and free.
Harp – “Patrick’s Day.” – Loud applause.
Mr. T. F. Meagher rose to respond to the toast …
… [after a long speech by Meagher, the next toast was to Daniel O’Connell, the Liberator, and the band played “the conquering hero”. Then the chairman continued:] …
… The teetotallers of Waterford, notwithstanding the snares which are laid to take the weak and vacillating, are firm, and their cause is still progressing. I, therefore, give you the health of our best friend and benefactor, “The Very Rev. Theobald Matthew, and success to the temperance cause.”
Received with great honour.
Mr. O’CONNOR, the harper, then sang in deep feeling and Irish style a temperance song to the tune of “The Humours of Glynn,” which took the house by surprise. A general acclaim followed each chorus – in fact, all was one scene of eager enthusiasm at the real, genuine singing of Mr. O’Connor, accompanied as he was by Mr. Rennie, who is a first rate performer.
… [then there was another speech, and a toast to the Mayor and Corporation of Waterford, and the Mayor gave a short speech, ending with:] …
… I assure you that the improvement of my native city is the warmest wish of my heart (loud cheers).
A tune from the harp, and a song by Mr. O’Connor – “Come, Freedom, come!” the followed; loud cheers succeeded Mr O’Connor’s song.
The CHAIRMAN – I am sure, ladies and gentlemen, that you are all grateful to Mr. O’Connor for his very eminent services here this evening (cheers). On Wednesday evening those gentlemen are to take their benefit, and I hope the teetotallers whom they have complimented, and enlivened will be at their post here on Wednesday evening. …
… [ next was a toast to “the ladies”, when they were addressed as “the insect queen” which I think was supposed to be a compliment. Then a toast to the organisers and stewards, and to the chairman, and the evening came to a close.]
Mr O’Connor as usual hogs the attention, and sings some songs. But we can imagine perhaps they both play the set-dance tune and traditional harp standard, Patrick’s Day, as a duet. Perhaps most interesting for us is when O’Connor sings the temperance song to the air of The Humours of Glynn. The report describes Rennie playing the harp to accompany O’Connor’s singing, and says that Rennie was “a first rate performer”. I get the impression that O’Connor was in charge of the duo, and Rennie acted as his accompanist and supporter. So it can be difficult to get a grip on what Rennie himself was doing since he always seems to be in O’Connor’s shadow. Even here O’Connor gets the attention, but at least we can see Rennie’s role more clearly.
I don’t know what the song might have been, but you can listen to the tune:
I don’t have any other references to their “benefit” on Wednesday 10th September in Waterford Town Hall; presumably this was just another concert.
After these events in Waterford, the two blind lads moved on to the next town, New Ross, for events in mid-September. Actually I am sure these blanks between the notices were filled with work; they would likely have been engaged by wealthy people in the town or in country houses to play for private parties or dinners. We just don’t see any of that kind of stuff in the public record.
I have not found any adverts or reviews of their concerts in New Ross at the Tholsel. What we do have is a letter written in to the Wexford newspaper mentioning the New Ross performances.
THE IRISH HARPWexford Independent, Sat 27 Sep 1845 p2
TO THE EDITOR OF THE INDEPENDENT
SIR – Permit me through the medium of your able and truly Irish journal to announce to the intrepid and patriotic Men of Wexford, and also to the fair and lovely daughters of your distinguished town, that the people of Ross were really delighted – nay, charmed, for the last few days by the performance of two Gentlemen, in our Tholsel, on that enchanting instrument of heavenly music and melody – The Irish Harp. One of these Gentlemen – Mr. O’Connor – is from the City of the Violated Treaty, and a first rate performer; and in my humble judgement , his soul is as pure as a faithful son of Ireland, as the sounds and notes of his Harp are delightful and charming to the ear and heart of the patriotic sons and daughters of the Green Isle. And could the unequalled and soul-stirring music of this matchless instrument be anything but pleasing to to the Irish ear, and gratifying to the Irish heart, when it never fails to bring home to the found recollection of every man versed in Irish History, the days of Ireland’s greatness and glory. The Men of Ross and their virtuous wives and daughters patronised the Gentlemen in question for three successive nights, and may they not anticipate the same favour and encouragement from the Gentlemen and Ladies of your far-famed town; and believe me, that they will feel equally gratified, as were the people here at the performance. Mr. O’Connor will sing several Irish Melodies in a beautiful strain, and in a peculiar style in company with the Harp.
I am, Mr. Editor, your obedient servant,
Ross, September, 26th, 1845
Again, Rennie is there, but eclipsed by O’Connor’s big ego and presence.
On the same page, is an editorial referencing the letter and promoting their next concert, which was in Wexford on Monday 29th September 1845.
THE IRISH HARP – CONCERT ON MONDAY EVENINGWexford Independent, Sat 27 Sep 1845 p2
The lovers of national music, and of the national instrument associated with all our dreams of ancient glory, cannot fail to feel pleasure in the anticipation of the enjoyment awaiting them on Monday evening, in the concert to be given by Messrs. O’CONNOR and RENNY, whose advertisement appears in another column. We have reason to know that the performances of these gentlemen, particularly of Mr. O’CONNOR, is exquisite. The letter of our warm-hearted and patriotic friend, “A Ross Man,” shows that the attendance upon their concerts in New Ross was numerous and respectable. The concerts previously given by them in Waterford drew great numbers of the respectable and intelligent citizens. We hope that in Wexford they are destined to meet with success equally signal.
The advert on the following page is their usual text:
GRAND HARP CONCERTWexford Independent, Sat 27 Sep 1845 p3
By permission of Sheppard Jeffares, Esq., Mayor of Wexford
MESSRS. O’CONNOR AND RENNY,
PROFESSORS of the Irish Harp, from the Belfast Institution, beg respectfully to inform the Nobility, Clergy, Gentry, and other inhabitants of Wexford and its Vicinity, that they will give a Concert at the ASSEMBLY ROOMS, on MONDAY evening, SEPTEMBER 29, when there will be performed a rich selection of Music, consisting of Irish, Scotch, and Welch Airs, both Harps accompanying each other.
Messrs. O’CONNOR & RENNY, who are endeavouring to rescusitate and revive the National Music of their Country, confidently appeal to the lovers of the national instrument in Wexford for their patronage and support.
Reserved Seats, 2s.; Back Seats, 1s.; Children half-price.
Doors open at Half-past Seven, to commence at Eight o’clock.
☞ An Amateur Band will be in attendance
Tickets to be had at the “INDEPENDENT” Office, and at the Door.
After the concert on Monday 29th Sept, there was a review:
THE IRISH HARP – FIRST CONCERT OF MESSRS. O’CONNOR AND RENNYWexford Independent, Wed 1 Oct 1845 p2
Pursuant to the announcement in our last, Messrs. O’Connor and Renny gave their first concert at the Assembly-rooms on Monday evening. We are happy to state that the attendance was highly respectable, and that the performance of the several pieces named in the programme was to the entire satisfaction of the assembly, and called forth loud and repeated applause. The “Paustheen Fieun” and the “Land of the West,” as sung by Mr. O’Connor, elicited enthusiastic applause; and the former was rapturously encored. His singing of “Kate Kearney”, with accompaniment on the harp, also elicited hearty and continued applause. It will be seen that “Kate Kearney” and the “Paustheen Fieun” are, by particular desire, to be repeated at the second concert, to be given to-night. We have reason to believe that the attendance will be equally respectable as on Monday night, and much more numerous.
Again, it’s all about O’Connor. But we see Rennie there possibly quietly holding everything together in the background.
The duo stayed on in Wexford and performed concert after concert. Their fifth concert was on Monday 6th October, so they had basically done four in a week. I wonder if the same people went back every night to hear the same tunes?
THE IRISH HARP – FIFTH CONCERT OF MESSRS. O’CONNOR AND RENNY.Wexford Independent, Sat 11 October 1845 p3
The fifth concert of Messrs. O’CONNOR and RENNY will be given at the Assembly Rooms on Monday evening. We have reason to anticipate that the attendance will be respectable, and numerous beyond precedent – in short that the true-hearted sons and lovely daughters of Old Wexford will show what they are able and willing to do in honour of the ancient music of their country, and in support and encouragement of those who still call forth the tones of the Harp of Old Erin, and seek to transmit them to following generations.
Later in the same month they seem to have gone to Enniscorthy, where they played four public concerts as well as private events:
FROM OUR ENNISCORTHY CORRESPONDENTWexford Independent, Sat 1 Nov 1845 p2
THE IRISH HARP. – Messrs. O’Connor and Renny, Professors of the Irish Harp, have given four concerts in this town, and their performance on the national instrument gave unbounded satisfaction to several lovers of Irish music in this locality. On Tuesday evening they performed before a distinguished company at the residence of John Maher, Esq., Ballinkeele.
So on Tuesday 28th October 1845 they went to Ballinkeele House which is about half way between Enniscorthy and Wexford, to perform for the house guests of John Maher. I am sure they were doing a lot more private events than this one, but we are not usually told about this kind of thing.
After that I don’t have any more information for the six months over the winter. We find our boys again in May 1846, in Cork.
GRAND HARP CONCERTSIrish Examiner, Friday 1 May 1846, p1, also Cork Examiner the same day.
UNDER MOST DISTINGUISHED PATRONAGE
MESSRS. O’CONNOR AND RENNY,
PROFESSORS of the Irish Harp, from the Belfast Institution, beg respectfully to inform the Nobility, Clergy, Gentry, and other inhabitants of Cork, and its Vicinity, that they will give a MORNING CONCERT, at M’DOWELL’s GREAT ROOMS, IMPERIAL CLARENCE HOTEL, on SATURDAY Morning, May 2nd, and an EVENING CONCERT, on MONDAY, May the 4th, when there will be performed a rich selection of Music consisting of Irish, Scotch, and Welch Airs, both Harps accompanying each other.
In the course of the Entertainment, Mr. O’CONNOR will sing several of the Irish Melodies with Harp accompaniment.
MESSRS. O’CONNOR and RENNY, who are endeavouring to resuscitate and revive the National Music of their Country, confidently appeal to the lovers of the national instrument in Cork for their patronage and support.
Doors open to Morning Concert, at ½ past 12, to commence at 1; for Evening Concert at half-past 7, to commence at Eight.
A Full Band will be in attendance.
Tickets 2s each; Children half-price, to be had at Mr. A. D. ROCHE’S Musical Repository; Mr. BOWDEN’S, South Mall, and Mrs. GILLESPIE’S, Grand Parde.
I think we can see that this is basically the same text as what they sent in to the Waterford Chronicle the year before. We can see the emphasis on their patronage, though as usual we are not told who the patrons were or how much private work the boys were given by their patrons. I think the band playing in the concert is also interesting; this is quite a common feature of traditional harp concerts through the mid 19th century. And I note that O’Connor will sing “several of the Irish Melodies with Harp accompaniment” – I think this must be referring to Thomas Moore’s songs. Was Rennie playing the accompaniment here?
A couple of weeks later, the lads appear in a much more unusual show, which paired their harp music and song with a Shakespeare play.
THEATRE ROYAL, CORK.Cork Examiner, Wed 13 May 1846 p3
THIS Evening Mr. PAUMIER will make his last appearance but one this season. The celebrated National Harpers, Messrs. O’CONNOR and RENNY will also appear, on which occasion the Reduced Prices will be taken. The entertainments will commence with
THE MERCHANT OF VENICE.
Shylock …….. Mr. Paumier. Antonio ………. Mr. Seymour.
A Russian Pas Suel by Madlle Floretta Camille.
The whole to conclude with a Grand MISCELLANEOUS CONCERT, in which Messrs. O’CONNOR and RENNY, Professors of the Irish Harp will make their second appearance, and, assisted by Mrs BARROWCLIFFE, perform and sing a variety of National and other airs.
Mr. PAUMIER’S Benefit under the Immediate Patronage of Col. MARKHAM, 22d Regt. and the Officers in general of the Garrison.
The advert continued with details of another appearance by Mr. Paumier the following night. I think this Paumier was a Shakespearian actor who was born in Whitehaven in 1805, and died in 1876, and is buried in Egremont cemetery (Sillard 1901 p37-8)
After that extravaganza, I don’t have another reference for the next four months, but in September 1846 O’Connor and Renny are still in Cork. This brief reference is in the middle of a column of other miscellaneous news. There are references to the price of food; imported American potatoes were selling on Dublin Quays for 10d a stone, and in Clonmel the price of maize had risen 40% (from 1s. to 1s. 8d.), and wheat had gone up 50% (from 1s. 8d. to 2s. 2d.), reminding us that in September 1846 the potato harvest had failed and an gorta mór was starting to bite.
Messrs. O’Connor (Limerick,) and Rennie (of Belfast,) professors of the Irish Harp, had a Concert yesterday (Tuesday) evening, at the People’s Hall, Cork, which was most respectably attended.Limerick and Clare Examiner, Wed 23 Sept 1846 p2
I suppose we have to imagine that Rennie was working at other events in between these flashes of information. He could have been touring together with O’Connor, or they could have split up and worked separately. Perhaps they were doing concerts, but advertising by handbills instead of in the newspapers (and probably there are newspaper adverts I have missed). Perhaps also they were playing for private patrons in big houses. We have a reference from May 1847 to O’Connor working apparently on his own in Inistioge (unless Rennie was there but didn’t even get mentioned!)
O’Connor and Renny return to Wexford, 1847
In June 1847, Renny was back in Wexford with O’Connor, presumably hoping to reprise the success of their concert series there the year before.
THE IRISH HARP – CONCERT BY MESSRS. O’CONNOR AND RENNY.Wexford Independent, Saturday 12 June 1847 p3
We feel pleasure in directing attention to an advertisement in another place, by which it will be seen that Messrs. O’CONNOR and RENNY, the eminent Performers on the Irish Harp, will give a Concert on Monday Evening, at the Assembly Rooms. We can anticipate a full and fashionable attendance, confident as we are that those who had the gratification of hearing these delightful performers on our national instrument upon a former occasion will feel happy in enjoying a similar gratification again.
The advert contains a surprise announcement, that they were planning to go to America:
GRAND HARP CONCERT!Wexford Independent, Sat 12 Jun 1847 p3
By Permission of the worshipful Robert Cardiff, M.D., Mayor of Wexford.
MESSRS. O’CONNOR & RENNY
Professors of the Irish Harp, from the Belfast Institution,
BEING on their way to Dublin, whence they intend proceeding to America, beg leave respectfully to inform the Ladies and Gentlemen of Wexford and its vicinity, that they will give
A C O N C E R T ,
AT THE ASSEMBLY-ROOMS,
MONDAY EVENING, 14TH JUNE,
When they hope to receive a further share of that patronage and support, which have been heretofore so kindly extended to them, and for which they have ever felt grateful.
For particulars of performance, see BILLS of the Day.
Doors open at 8 o’clock. – Performance to commence at half-past Eight.
FRONT SEATS. 1s. – BACK SEATS, 6D.
Tickets to be had at the “INDEPENDENT” office, and at the Assembly-Rooms.
We also have a review, which talks (in very over-the-top and florid language) about their New World plans:
GRAND HARP CONCERTWexford Independent, Wed 16 June 1847 p2
The admirers of the National Instrument in this town, received a delectable treat at Messrs. O’CONNOR & RENNY’s Concert, on Monday evening, in the Assembly-rooms. Each piece was given with a brilliancy of execution and delicacy of touch that carried us back captive to our ancient days of “bards and bravery” – but the “Coolin” seemed the very soul of inspiration, and should have been heard to be appreciated. It drew forth an actual hurricane of plausive admiration from the auditory; and we sincerely hope that it may occupy a place in the next programme. We heartily wish these distinguished Harpists every success in this and the Young Empire beyond the Western Main, whither they purport wending their pilgrimage within a very short period.
The Coolin is one of the big harp tunes that comes down from the 18th century Irish harpers. You can read my commentary on some of the 18th century sources, and you can listen to this traditional performance:
So what happened? “in a short period” is not very specific. We might like to imagine them leaving the day after the concert and setting off for Dublin, with serious plans to get on the next emigrant ship leaving the docks. 1847 was the worst year of the famine, and talk of emigration would be all around them for the lower classes at least.
But it seems to me that their plans may have been more considered, because they both stayed in County Wexford, apparently doing individual gigs playing for the upper classes in the area. I found a clipping about O’Connor doing private events for the Grogan family at their country house, Johnstown Castle which is just a few km south-west of Wexford; but I don’t have anything for Rennie over the summer of 1847.
The announcement and advertisement for their “farewell concert” on Friday 15th October 1837, gives us an impression of them having spent the entire summer out and about in County Wexford, playing for fashionable society events. The Famine must have seemed worlds away from the big houses they were visiting, but perhaps their American plans were foremost in their minds. The references to the “kind and lengthened patronage” of the Ladies and Gentlemen suggests to me that they had a busy summer playing at private parties in the big houses and town houses of the area.
THE IRISH HARP – FAREWELL CONCERT OF MESSRS. O’CONNOR AND RENNYWexford Independent, Wed 13 Oct 1847 p2
By reference to an advertisement in another column it will be seen that Messrs. O’CONNOR and RENNY, whose exquisite performance on the Irish Harp has afforded so much enjoyment to the lovers of national music in the town and County of Wexford, will give their Farewell Concert at the Assembly Rooms on Friday Evening. From the high satisfaction they afforded on former occasions, we can anticipate, as we earnestly desire to witness, a full and fashionable attendance. The worthy representatives of our ancient Bards have given a series of concerts at our sprightly and distinguished model of watering places, Kilmore; and their performance was, on the several occasions, hailed with enthusiasm by the numerous and respectable assemblies attracted by the name and fame of our national instrument and the minstrels who called forth its magic tones.
And the advert in the same issue:
GRAND HARP CONCERT.Wexford Independent, Wed 13 Oct 1847 p3
BY SPECIAL DESIRE
WITH PERMISSION OF THE
WORSHIPFUL THE MAYOR OF WEXFORD,
And under the Patronage of his Worship and of several Ladies and Gentlemen of high respectability in the town and neighbourhood.
MESSRS. O’CONNOR & RENNY,
(Professors of the Irish Harp),
BEG respectfully and most gratefully to tender their warmest thanks to the Ladies and Gentlemen of the Town and County of Wexford to whom they are indebted for a kind and lengthened patronage which they shall ever bear in vivid recollection, and to announce that, at the kindly and earnestly expressed request of many of their generous friends of the highest respectability in the Town of Wexford and the surrounding localities, and with the permission of his Worship the Mayor to whom they feel under peculiar obligations of gratitude, they will give
A F A R E W E L L C O N C E R T
AT THE ASSEMBLY-ROOMS,
On Friday Evening, the 15th Inst.
The performance will consist of the usual variety of the most approved National and Popular Airs.
AN MEETEUR STRING BAND
will be in attendance, and play at intervals the fashionable airs of the day.
Doors open at half-past Seven. Performance to commence at Eight.
Tickets to be had at the Independent Office.
Wexford, Oct, 13, 1847.
I think the typesetter got very tangled up trying to write “an amateur string band”… but we do have a review of this concert.
THE IRISH HARP – GRAND CONCERT AT THE ASSEMBLY ROOMSWexford Independent, Wed 20 Oct 1847 p2
We are happy to state that, according to our anticipation, or we should say far beyond any anticipation we could form or express, the Grand Harp Concert given by Messrs. O’CONNOR and RENNY at the Assembly Rooms, on Friday evening, drew an unprecedentedly numerous and most respectable attendance. The rank, fashion, and taste of our town and the surrounding localities were amply represented. No stronger proof could be afforded of the high appreciation in which the talents and acquirements of the enthusiastic and accomplished votaries of Irish song were held from former experience, and from the fair representations of fame. The favourable opinion generally entertained of them was evinced by the warm and prolonged applause with which they were received on taking their seats for the performance, and which were repeated and carried to the the highest pitch of enthusiasm at frequent intervals during the night. The “Coolin” by Mr. O’Connnor, and the “Mountain’s Brow” by Mr. Renny, were among the first pieces which called forth the most vivid demonstrations of approval; and many of those which followed were received with equal favour. Upon the whole, the distinguished Harpists exceeded, if possible, all their efforts on previous occasions, and the applause bestowed formed only the tribute justly due to their exhibitions of genius and skill. We heartily wish them a continuance of such encouragement; and we have no doubt but they shall meet it as the reward of their continued application to the honourable task of developing the inexpressible beauties of the too much neglected music of our country.
Here is a direct reference to Rennie performing “the Mountain’s Brow”. I am not sure what this is – whether Rennie is singing, or playing an instrumental air; and there is more than one song I have found called the mountain brow. There is a traditional tune which might be vaguely related to the classical song by Alexander Lee; there is a different traditional song as well.
Whatever his plans, O’Connor did not emigrate, or if he did go he came straight back, because two and a half years later he was in Dublin working with a new musical partner he had found to replace Rennie.
But I have no further references to Mr.Rennie. Maybe he really did go to America and made his fortune.
2 thoughts on “Mr. Rennie”
Hi Simon, many thanks for a most intriguing account of the mysterious second Rennie from Belfast. If only his first name was included, it would help a little with his identification. I may have a tenuous lead to his identity, if you wished to discuss further.
Thanks Mark, yes any information speculation or opinions very welcomed no matter how tenuous!