Brady was a traditional Irish harper, but we know almost nothing about him. We only have records about him for one single day, mentioning him performing at two events, a parade and a tea party, on Wednesday 17th March 1841. This post is to discuss the reports of these events, to try and say something useful about him.
The parade was held in Dublin on St Patrick’s Day 1841. It consisted of a number of different temperance societies. The societies all assembled in Phoenix Park, and then paraded through the city. The Irish Capuchin Provincial Archives hold an 1885 reprint of an 1841 poster for the Dublin Society, advertising the parade. You can see the poster online at the Catholic archives Catalogue.
There seem to have been different pre-arranged meeting points in Phoenix Park for the different societies, who would meet up with carriages, musicians, and hundreds of pedestrians, either in uniform or wearing coloured sashes or ribbons.
The procession being formed about 11 o’clock, the Dublin Society marched by a counter march, to the line, so as to be seen by those who were to follow. They were followed by the Mariner’s Society, and next came the band of the Saints Nicholas and Moira Society, drawn in an open carriage-and-four, playing in splendid style. These were followed by the Rev. Doctor Flanagan, drawn by four grey horses and two out-riders. His carriage was followed by the society, each wearing a scarf of crimson tabinet, looped up with pink ribbon. The next was a large vehicle containing the band of the Rev. Theobald Matthew’s Society, who were splendidly dressed in blue uniform, edged with gold lace and black fringe, and caps to match. The vehicle, which was very large, containing the band, amounting to thirty persons, and their instruments, was drawn by four grey horses, and preceded by two out-riders, with splendid scarfs. They were followed by a carriage and four, having in front a harper, dressed in the costume of one of the ancient harpers of Ireland, and an Irish harp upon which he played occasionally. Next came the vice-president, the Rev. J. J. F. Murphy, in a carriage and four, accompanied by some clergymen. Then followed the Society, having small banners, with the name of the society, and most of the members wearing ribbons or other decorations, the rear of the society was brought up by about five hundred small boys, wearing lilac ribbons, and having white rods in their hands – they looked most interesting, and were generally admired…Dublin Weekly Herald, 20 Mar 1841 p2
We have other descriptions of Father Matthew’s Society at the parade, which name the harper:
… The Very Rev. Theobald Matthew’s Society, preceded by twelve mounted marshalls with a carriage and four, containing the Very Rev. J. J. Murphy, O.S.F.C., vice-president, the Rev. Mr. Smith, P.P., Sandyford, and Messrs. Brennan and Langan. The band of this society was particularly fine, consisting of thirty-six performers, dressed in uniforms of blue frocks and caps with gold bands. They were drawn in a large caravan, ornamented with laurel boughs, and given for the occasion by Mr. Gosson, of Dorset-Street. Immediately behind the band was a chaise, with Brady, the blind harper, dressed in the costume of the ancient Irish bards, and playing on the national instrument. This society, which has been very recently formed, numbers about 6,000, a large portion of whom walked in the procession. They were also joined by branches from Clontarf, Sandyford, Swords, Raheny, and Blancherstown; four deep. Distinguishing colour, violet sashes, with gold fringes and roselets…Freeman’s Journal, Thur 18 Mar 1841, p3
Not everyone was impressed:
…The whole day has been devoted to idleness. The several Teetotal Societies marched in procession; and if their whole forces were arrayed to day, they must have diminished in number since this time twelvemonth to a very considerable extent. They passed by our office on the present occasion; and we can vouch for it, on personal inspection, that the numbers present did not exceed one-fourth of those who marched in procession on this day twelvemonth…Kerry Evening Post, Sat 20 Mar 1841 p1
But some reports were enthusiastic:
…never did a disciplined army march in more admirable order than did the 70,000 (the numbers were estimated at 70,000) teetotalers of Dublin … the windows of the houses through which the procession passed were literally alive with spectators, who hailed each society as it passed with hearty congratulations. In Francis-street, near Thomas-street, there was a splendid triumphal arch, composed of ribbons, most tastefully combined and wound together, and underneath was suspended the figure of a dove, bearing a harp on her back, and an olive branch in her mouth; the whole had a most imposing effect. Very many of the houses in the different streets were profusely decorated with green branches and flags, on which were inscribed “Success to Irish manufacture,” God speed the cause of Temperance,” and such like …Dublin Evening Post, Thur 18 Mar 1841 p3
[the article continues by describing the route] … From the Fifteen Acres through the Park-gate, over the King’s-bridge up to James’s-street, through Thomas-street, down Meath-street, where they turned down to the Coomb; up Francis-street, Corn-market, High-street, Cork-hill, Parliament-street, over Essex-bridge, through Capel-street, Bolton-street, Dorset-street, Upper Gardiner-street, round Mountjoy-square, through Middle Gardiner-street, Britain-street, Sackville-street, over Carlisle-bridge, up D’Olier-street, Great Brunswick-street, Westland-row, Merrion-street, Merrion-square, Fitzwilliam-square, Fitzwilliam-street, Leeson-street, Stephen’s-green, Grafton-street, College-green, and Dame-street…
My map shows the route. This is about 13km in total from the phoenix statue to Dame Street. The route around and between Merrion Square and Fitzwilliam Square is not described so I have guessed at that point.
My header photo shows a view of Grattan Bridge (formerly Essex Bridge) in Dublin, which the parade passed over.
The tea party
In the evening of St Patrick’s day, after the procession had finished, and the members of the different societies dispersed, the members of Father Matthew’s society continued the festivities:
TEMPERANCE SOIREE. – The Very Rev. T. Matthew’s society held a grand temperance tea party in their neatly fitted-up hall, Coleraine-street, on yesterday evening. The confectionary was supplied by Mr. Dowling, of Church-street, and was of an excellent description. The Very Rev. J. J. F. Murphy, presided, and Mr. Rogers occupied the vice-chair. The party was most numerously attended: the rev. chairman, with appropriate prefaces, proposed the usual sentiments, the Queen and Prince Albert, the Princess Royal, the Duchess of Kent, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, the Apostle of Temperance, &c. The splendid band of the society, and their celebrated harper (Brady), were in attendance. After the refreshments were disposed of, and some excellent speeches delivered, several lively songs were sung, and the meeting broke up at eleven o’clock, giving three cheers for the Queen and Father Matthew.Dublin Monitor, Thur 18 Mar 1841 p3
Coleraine Street is between Smithfield and King’s Inns, on the north side of Dublin. I can’t work out where on Coleraine Street the hall was.
It seems that Father Matthew himself did not take part in the parade and soiree in Dublin on Wednesday 17th March; he was in county Monaghan at the beginning of that week to “administer the pledge” to thousands of eager would-be teetotalers in Carrickmacross and Monaghan (Dublin Monitor, Thur 18 Mar 1841 p3)
What can we say about Brady?
This is all we have basically. Other newspapers reprinted the reports but they don’t add any information.
So the only concrete information about Brady that we have are that he was a harper, and that he was blind.
The report on the tea-party calls him “their” harper, as if he played regularly for the Society.
His appearance in this procession dressed in a costume (presumably a long robe, and perhaps a long wig, false beard and pointy hat) fits in to a number of descriptions of costumed harpers riding on carriages as part of parades. I have discussed this for some of them; we have drawings which seem to be of Joseph Craven a few years later, in September 1844, when he played in a procession for Daniel O’Connell. We have another drawing of a harper at an O’Connell parade which I discussed in my post on Thomas Hanna. In fact I think there was some overlap in the people who paraded for Temperance under Father Matthew, and those who paraded for Repeal under O’Connell. But the use of this “antique” costume for the harpers had a wider application than just the parades, and we find the costumes in a number of different contexts. I should make a study of the different references to the costumes. Perhaps the most famous use of the costume is when Patrick Byrne was dressed up for a tableau vivant at the Waverley Ball in Edinburgh in 1845, and then was photographed wearing the same or similar costume.
If Brady was working as a professional harper in 1841, then we can think about how he may have learned the harp. The harp school in Belfast had been running non-stop from the beginning of 1820 through to the beginning of 1840, at first under Edward McBride, then for most of its life under Valentine Rennie, and finally under Alex Jackson. We are missing the records of its students through the 1830s and so I think it is quite possible that Brady may have learned the harp under Valentine Rennie in Belfast in the 1830s. If so, he would have been presented with a large wire-strung harp on his discharge from the school; and he would then have made his living working professionally as a traditional harper. Perhaps he often played for these kind of evening soirees; but we have no records of any of them.
The surname Brady is from the Brádach group of surnames, but there don’t seem to be English variants of the name Brady. As you can see on Barry Griffin’s maps, there are Bradys all over Ireland though the name is focussed on county Cavan. So this doesn’t really help us narrow down where he came from. We also don’t know when he was born; it was normal for harp students to learn full time for a few years between the ages of about 10 and 20. I suppose it seems plausible to guess that he may have been born as early as 1810 or as late as the mid 1820s.
I checked all the names on my timeline of harpers, and I don’t see anyone on there who has a name even vaguely reminiscent of “Brady”. This is why I am currently assuming that Brady is a harper who we have no records of, except for his participation in the parade and soiree on 17th March 1841.