Edward O’Neil

Edward O’Neil was learning to play the traditional wire-strung Irish harp in Belfast in 1810. This post is to try and say something useful about him.

We have only one reference to Edward O’Neil, and it tells us very little:

The Gentlemen of the Irish Harp Society in Belfast held their meeting on Tuesday 2nd January 1810, presumably in the Harp Society House in Pottinger’s Entry:

Day scholars not depending on the Society for support
Edward O Neill [and two others]
all of, or near Belfast

Minutes of 2 Jan 1810, Irish Harp Society Minute book, Linen Hall Library, Belfast, Beath Collection box 5.1 p36

That is all we have. So we have no idea how old Edward O’Neil was, or where he was from. And I have not found any later references to him working as a traditional Irish harper.

We can however talk a little bit about his education as a “day scholar”.

In January 1810, the Irish Harp Society’s school was being run from No. 8, Pottinger’s Entry, Belfast. The master of the school was the elderly harper Arthur O’Neil, who was originally from near Dungannon, in county Tyrone.

Edward O’Neil had two classmates also called O’Neil, Patrick O’Neil from near Dungannon, and James O’Neil from Dungannon. I don’t know if these other O’Neils were possibly related to the teacher Arthur O’Neil. And if they were I don’t know if our Edward O’Neil may also have been from near there.

Edward O’Neil was a “day scholar”. In the list of students presented to the meeting on 2nd January 1810, there are nine boarding pupils listed, plus three day scholars: Edward O’Neil, Hugh Dornan and John Wallace. My understanding is that the boarding pupils would have lived in the Harp Society House in Pottinger’s Entry along with Arthur O’Neil and a housekeeper (I think the housekeeper was Mrs Rankin); all of their living expenses, board, lodging and tuition were paid for by the Harp Society. But the day scholars would have lived “in or near Belfast” at their own expense, and would have walked in to the school room on Pottinger’s Entry every day for their lessons.

Entry and exit

I was trying to work out when Edward O’Neil may have entered and left the school. I think because the Gentlemen were not paying for the board and lodging of the day scholars, they did not care so much about them, and did not bother to keep such good track of them.

The list of 2 Jan 1810 is the only list of pupils from Arthur O’Neil’s school that we have. But there are other references that tell us how many pupils there were at any given time; and the Jan 1810 list also tells us when each of the boarding pupils was admitted. And we also have the record of two of the pupils being expelled (I think for bad behaviour), James O’Neil and William Gorman.

You can see that we don’t know when any of the three day pupils started or left; all we know for sure are that all three were there in January 1810.

However we can use the report from the Belfast Commercial Chronicle Mon 20 March 1809 p2, to see that at that time there were “eight blind boys”. We can account for six of them; and so we can perhaps assume that the other two were two of Edward O’Neil, John Wallace and Hugh Dornan. But I don’t know how to tell which of these two might have been there then.

Confusingly, the report of the Belfast News Letter on Fri 8 Sep 1809 mentions only “six blind children”, which would account for the six boarders who we are told had joined the school before then. So were the day pupils excluded from this event? I don’t really understand this.

I’m not sure this chart illuminates much.

I don’t even know when the pupils were all discharged. There are just no records. The last mention of “the pupils” is in an advert for them performing in a benefit concert, in the Belfast Commercial Chronicle 17th June 1811. We have a reference to the house in Pottinger’s Entry in Mr O’Reilly’s advert in the Belfast Newsletter Wed 11 Sep 1811 p3, but he does not mention the pupils. Then there is a gap of 14 months until we have the letter in the Belfast Commercial Chronicle Sat 7 Nov 1812 saying that Arthur O’Neil has “no pupils”.

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.