In the Morning Star, Pottinger's Entry, Belfast

John Wallace

John Wallace was learning to play the traditional Irish wire-strung harp in Belfast in 1810. We know basically nothing about him apart from that. This post is just to put down a marker for him. If we find any more information we can add it to the bottom.

The Harp Society minutes

The minute book of the Gentlemen of the management committee of the Irish Harp Society is in the Linen Hall Library, Belfast (Beath collection, box 5.1 p36). At the meeting of Tue 2 Jan 1810, a list of the current pupils studying under Arthur O’Neil was written into the minute book (p.39-40). There are twelve names on the list.

The first eight are the boarding pupils, each given with information about their ages, places of origin, when they entered the school, and which Gentlemen recommended or sponsored them. I have now written up all of these: William Gorman, Patrick McGrath, Edward McBride, Patrick O Neil, James O Neil, Valentine Rennie, Abraham Wilkinson, and James McMolaghan.

The ninth name is Bridget O’Reilly, whose status seems unclear – sometimes I think she may have been like a classroom assistant or deputy teacher, though she is often described as a student.

And the last three are “Day Scholars not depending on the society for support / all of, or near, Belfast”: Edward O’Neil, Hugh Dornan, and our man John Wallace.

So the way I understand this is that the first nine boys lived in the Harp Society House in Pottinger’s Entry, with the teacher Arthur O’Neil and with Bridget O’Reilly and also probably with the housekeeper Mrs Rankin; the Harp Society would pay for everything, providing the pupils with board and lodging and even clothes. But the other three boys including John Wallace would live at their own expense in Belfast and would walk in every day for their lessons.

A decade or so later on, in the re-constituted school from 1820 onwards, I think we see a pattern emerging. I think the Gentlemen allowed day pupils to attend, but they did not pay much attention to them. The Gentlemen seem to be most focussed on monitoring the progress of the boarding pupils, since that is where most of the money went to.

So we don’t know when John Wallace might have started his lessons in traditional wire-strung Irish harp under Arthur O’Neil, only that it was in 1809 or before. And we don’t know when he stopped taking lessons; the school seems to have run through to around the summer of 1812 before it closed, the lease on the house was likely given up, the pupils were sent away to the countryside to fend for themselves, and Arthur O’Neil had to live elsewhere in Belfast in poverty because he had not been paid his salary by the Harp Society Gentlemen for a couple of years.

So what did John Wallace do? Did he give up his studies and drop out, to make a living in some other way? Did he go out into the countryside with some of his former classmates, trying to make a living as a traditional Irish harper?

I have no further references to John Wallace. Maybe in the future something else will turn up.

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