P. Fitzpatrick

P. Fitzpatrick was a traditional Irish harper in the mid 19th century. I only have a couple of references to him but they contain some hints that can help us start to describe his life and work. Hopefully in time more references to him will be found.

Birth and early years

We have no information at all about where P. Fitzpatrick was originally from or when he was born. Based on my suggested dates for him learning the harp (see below), I would guess he may have been born some time between about 1810 and about 1825.

One of our sources says that Fitzpatrick was “from Belfast” but I think that is so vague it could just mean he had been educated at the harp school in Belfast.


Our sources say that Fitzpatrick was “from the Harp Institution, Belfast”. I would understand this to mean that he learned to play the harp at the Harp School in Cromac Street, run by the Irish Harp Society.

We have records of the pupils at the harp school under Edward MacBride and then under Valentine Rennie from 1820 through to 1826, but we have no records of admissions after that. So I would suggest that P. Fitzpatrick most likely attended the harp school full time for a few years some time between 1826 and 1840, learning the traditional wire-strung Irish harp from Valentine Rennie, or possibly also from his successor, Alexander Jackson.

Working in the Ship Hotel and Tavern, 1847

We first actually meet Mr. P. Fitzpatrick in 1847, when he was employed at the Ship Hotel and Tavern on Lower Abbey Street, Dublin.

EDWARD SHELLEY respectfully appraises his Patrons, and the Public generally, that in order that they may have the advantage of the late reductions in the provision markets, he will supply Dinners at the old price, namely, ONE SHILLING, and that the Joints will be found of the primest description as heretofore. Joints up at five o’Clock, sharp.
Fine old Whiskey Punch per glass, 4d.
Old Jamaica Rum ditto per ditto, 4d.
Cup of coffee and cigar, 6d.
Wines of the choicest quality, Cognac Brandy, Ale, Porter, Cider, &c., &c., equally moderate.
Breakfast, Lunch, Soup, Chop, Steak, or Supper, in a few minutes notice.
A fresh supply of Oysters every morning during the season.
A full sized Billiard Table, with Slate Bed and India-rubber cushions may be had per the hour, at 1s., or game of 63 6d. ; with gaslight, per hour, 1s. 6d.; game of 63 9d.
P. Fitzpatrick, from the Harp Institution, Belfast, will perform on the Irish Harp in the Coffee Room every evening, commencing at seven o’clock.

Freeman’s Journal, Mon 6 Sep 1847 p1, & Sat 11 Sep 1847 p1, also in Dublin Weekly Nation Sat 4 Sep 1847 p1, and Sat 11 Sep 1847 p1

The Ship Tavern was a very interesting place. It was just one of many taverns in Dublin at this time. It is my understanding that a tavern was quite a respectable business; perhaps the nearest modern equivalent would be a restaurant. There is an interesting legal case from ten years previously (Freeman’s Journal, 20 June 1838 p3) where a policeman had gone into the Ship just after midnight and found people drinking, and turned them out onto the street and prosecuted the owners for allowing after-hours drinking. A lot of the case is a discussion of how the Ship was not a public house, it was a tavern, with all the respectable connotations that carried. One of the waiters gave evidence, that people would not be allowed in just to drink, only for food; that women were not allowed in, that lower-class people would not be allowed in, but that Gentlemen would go there to eat dinner or supper. You can read the whole case report on my post about John McLoughlin.

The Ship Hotel and Tavern was at 5, Lower Abbey Street, Dublin. It is mentioned in James Joyce’s Ulysses, but the building was destroyed by British artillery fire in 1916, and the business never re-opened.

the North side of Lower Abbey Street, from Shaw’s Dublin Pictorial Guide and Directory, 1850. I have highlighted no.5 (The Ship Tavern) in yellow.

The proprietors of the Ship hired harpers or harpists to play every evening all the way through from 1829 to 1874. Sometimes the resident musician was a traditional Irish harper; I have already written about the traditional Irish harpers John McLaughlin, Joseph Craven, and Hugh O’Hagan who all played there. But the proprietors did not seem to mind what kind of harp was played in the Ship, because they also employed Welsh harpers playing on Welsh triple harps, Edward Jones and Henry Green, and they also employed classical harpists playing on pedal harps including Mr. Quinn and Owen Lloyd.

Normally the Ship adverts run regularly for an extended period of time but I have not found many for this period of time so it is hard to reconstruct what was happening. From October 1846 through to March 1847, the Ship adverts say that Edward Jones the Welsh harpist was the resident musician, playing every evening. Then there is gap of about six months, and then in September 1847 we find P. Fitzpatrick playing the Irish harp every evening. Then there is another big gap of two years until March 1849, when we are told simply that “…The IRISH HARP may be heard every evening to perfection, from 6 o’Clock until 12 at night” (Enniskillen Chronicle and Erne Packet, Mon 12 Mar 1849 p3). And then on Mon 9 April 1849 Shelley announces the “re-engagement” of Edward Jones playing his new prize Welsh harp.

We know that Edward Jones the Welsh harper was away from Ireland in 1848, because he competed in the Abergavenny Eisteddford that year, and won, and was presented with a superb harp made by Bassett-Jones and called the Cefn Mably harp after its noble donor. Jones’s prize harp is now owned and played by the traditional Welsh harper Huw Roberts.

So can we imagine that P. Fitzpatrick was hired by Edward Shelley some time in the summer of 1847, to replace the Welsh harper Edward Jones who had left Dublin to go back to Wales? And can we imagine P. Fitzpatrick having a year-and-a-half residency at the Ship, playing for five hours every evening six days a week? And then can we imagine Edward Jones returning to Dublin in March 1849 with the spectacular new prize harp, and Edward Shelley sacking poor P. Fitzgerald and re-hiring Edward Jones?

Performing in Waterford

Fifteen years later, we find a harper called Fitzpatrick playing at a private event in Waterford. I assume this is the same man.

On Monday evening last the first annual soiree of the Waterford Trades’ Guardian Association took place at their rooms, New-street, and on no former occasion did we experience more pleasure than witnessing this happy, and we hope often to be repeated, sight. The room was decorated in a style that would do credit to entertainments of far more pretensions. On entering the room, which was tastefully decorated with ever-greens, &c., the first words that met the eye were “Ceade mille faltha,” “Union is strength,” “Let us unite,” “Father land,” and similar devices. At the extreme end of the room the band was placed, and discoursed appropriate music during the evening. They were raised on a platform, and laurels, &c., formed a sort of arch or Gothic doorway, in which was placed an Irish harper, dressed in the old minstrel costume, flowing gown, white wig, and beard. The harper, we learned, was a blind gentleman named Fitzpatrick, from Belfast, and too much credit could not be given him for the masterly manner in which he handled the instrument…
…over 100 sat down to tea…

Waterford Mirror and Tramore Visitor, Thu 16 Jan 1862

The rest of the article briefly discusses the speech and the organisation.

Another article the next day in a different newspaper describes the same event:

On Monday evening the city trades gave a soiree in their rooms…
…At the further end of the room, facing the chair, were placed, on a raised platform, a string band, prominent among whom was stationed Mr. Patrick, harpist, in full national costume, with the ancient harp of Ireland before him, on which he played frequently during the night. The proceedings commenced with tea, sweet cake, and bread and butter, and on this pleasing part of the entertainment it may be enough to say the tea was excellent, the edibles the same, and all in the utmost abundance…

Waterford News, Fri 17 Jan 1862 p3

The rest of this article has more information about the speeches, and explains that the new organisation was to promote local and national industry and manufacture and to oppose imports. There is a description of toasts and songs, but no further mention of the harper.

So do we understand that “Mr. Patrick” is just a error for “Mr. Fitzpatrick”? Or is this a different harper, perhaps Samuel Patrick, who was in Dublin and the South until he returned to Belfast in 1863? Sam Patrick was not totally blind, but we know he was having serious eye trouble in 1862-3 and attending Dublin eye-doctors. I am not convinced that this is Sam Patrick here in Waterford, I tend to think that the information here naming our man as Mr. Fitzpatrick seems more detailed than the account that names him Mr. Patrick.

If this Mr. Fitzpatrick who played at Waterford in 1862 is the same person as Mr. P. Fitzpatrick who played at the Ship in 1847 (and perhaps through to 1849), was his first name Patrick and could that explain the confusion?


This is a most unsatisfactory post for different reasons. One is that I really don’t know very much about this person. Another is that he seems to have been sidelined in Dublin in favour of the Welsh harpers. And I am still not entirely convinced that we are looking at the same person 15 years later in Waterford.

Death records in Ireland start in 1864, but since we don’t know his first name and we don’t know when or where he may have died, we can’t really find him. There are over 1000 people called P. Fitzpatrick who died between 1864 and 1900 in the Irish records and I don’t think it is possible to search by occupation to look for a musician or harper there.

Perhaps in time more information will appear to help us work out what is going on.

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