Patrick Byrne part 5: Scotland, 1845

In Part 1, I wrote about Patrick Byrne’s early years and education, down to his discharge from harp school in 1822. Then in Part 2, we looked at his early career, working for patrons in Ireland and England from 1822 to 1837. Part 3 covered his first visit to Scotland over the winter of 1837-8, and his tour of Ireland in 1839-40. Then in Part 4 we looked at him playing for Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle, and then touring mostly in Ireland and a bit in England in 1841-4.

Since I posted part 4, John Scully has published his book Ah how d’you do sir (Carrickmacross, 2024) which gathers records of Byrne’s life, including many that I have included in my posts but also some that I had not found. I will refer to his book when he has found things that I didn’t know about. I have a few copies of John’s book in my shop.

By 1845, Patrick Byrne must have been around 50 years old. He was working hard, buoyed by his Royal patronage and his extensive networks of aristocratic patrons. At the beginning of 1845, he set off for his second trip to Scotland. It was a busy trip, and so this post will follow him for about six months, from when he went over at the beginning of 1845, until he headed back to Belfast on 25th June.

Travelling to Scotland

I think that Patrick Byrne must have left Lough Fea House in County Monaghan soon after Christmas – I assume he was spending Christmas there with his patrons the Shirleys. But straight after that he must have travelled to Scotland, because at the end of January 1845 one of his patrons wrote him a letter. We don’t have the envelope, but it looks very much like he was already in Scotland by then.

Abbey Leix
Jany 30. 1845
I have written to my sister Lady Dunmore & have requested her to give you [other] letters of introduction. Lady Dunmore will probably go to London about the 18th of February & will stay there a month, so you had better time your visit to her either before or after that date. I hope you will not make so many friends in Scotland as to make you forget your native land. Yrs – Emma Vesey

Public Records Office of Northern Ireland, D3531.G.5

Lady Emma Herbert, and Lady Catherine Herbert, were sisters. Emma married an Irish aristocrat, Thomas Vesey, 3rd Viscount de Vesci; they lived at Abbeyleix House in County Laois. Catherine married Alexander Murray, Viscount Fincastle; they lived at Dunmore Park near Falkirk in Scotland.

Perhaps Patrick Byrne visited Dunmore Park in early February, or perhaps he was visiting other patrons.

Lodgings in Edinburgh

In any case, by early March he was in Edinburgh.

MR PATRICK BYRNE, the BLIND IRISH HARPER, is to be for a short time in Edinburgh, during which he will ATTEND at PRIVATE HOUSES. Address Mrs Thomson’s, 3 West Register Street.

The Scotsman, Wed 12 Mar 1845 p1

We can see here that Byrne is not advertising public concerts, but he is hoping to be engaged to play for private parties or events in the big houses in Edinburgh. West Register Street is a slightly grotty back street just to the north of Prince’s Street in Edinburgh.

Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland, CC-BY

I checked the Goad fire insurance maps of 1892, and we can see that No.3 is the door to the left of the Guildford Arms pub. The door opens onto a passage to the the stairs which lead up to the floors above the pub. We can see from the Street View that the building has five levels. The fire insurance map shows that different premises are on different floors of the building. The Guildford Arms is on the ground floor (though its front is double-height, so it must also occupy part of the 1st floor). I assume that Mrs Thomson’s rooms must have been on the 1st and/or 2nd floors (levels 2 & 3). The Guildford Arms then has rooms on the 3rd floor (level 4), and then the 4th floor (the top floor, the slate-clad level 5), was part of the Café Royal, which my father used to go to when he was in Edinburgh for work trips. The entire building is a kind of warren of passages, staircases and rooms. The division of the different floors may have been different in 1845 from in 1892, and may not be the same today either, I don’t know.

The 1845-6 Edinburgh Post Office Directory (p225) lists a load of people here. At no.1 is A. Paton, saddler, and D. Robertson, Guildford Arms. Then at no.3 there are five different people: William Romanes, tavern; Miss Webster, lodgings; Mrs Thomson, lodgings; James Robertson, jeweller; and John Stamps, agent. I think that staying with Mrs Thompson would be cheap accommodation for Byrne, but would give him easy access to visit the big town houses of his Edinburgh patrons. Hopefully she looked after poor blind Byrne while he was staying there.

Nowadays, as you can see from the street view, these upper floors are run as tourist hostels. I stayed one night at the tourist hostel there some years ago; I arrived very late after playing at a high society private function; I went in through the door of no.3, and I carried the harp up the stone staircase. I slept in the dormitory with the harp in the bed beside me, and I got up very early the next morning to get the bus to Cairnryan and then the ferry to Belfast. It was a grotty place to stay but very convenient.

I think the entire reason for Byrne going to Edinburgh was for the Waverley Ball. I suppose it is possible he went there anyway to visit his aristocratic patrons, and once he was there he was booked for the ball. But I tend to think that he would travel based on aristocratic invitations, and they would invite him to fit with their aristocratic plans, including events like the ball.

The Waverley Ball

Scott Monument, with Edinburgh Castle in the background. Calotype photograph by David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson, 1845. Image: SNPG CC-BY-NC

Edinburgh in early 1845 was in the midst of Walter Scott mania. Sir Walter Scott had died in 1832, and his works, especially the Waverley novels, were enjoying sustained popularity, I think as part of a kind of nation-building in Scotland.

The Scott Monument on Princes Street had been finished in 1844; it was just five minutes walk along Prince’s Street from Byrne’s lodgings. This photo was taken in 1845, by the pioneering photographers Robert Adamson and David Octavius Hill. You can see the same view today on Street View. This is the corner of St Andrews Street; West Register Street is the next corner behind the photographers.

The Monument had been built with public subscriptions, and though it had been completed by 1844, it seems there was not enough money left to finish the fit-out, particularly to commission the statues and sculptures that are placed on niches all over the monument, and also to finish the landscaping of the gardens around the monument. And so from 1844 a series of annual Waverley-themed balls were organised to raise funds for this work.

Patrick Byrne appeared in costume at the second Waverley Ball, on Tuesday 1st April 1845. We have a very useful description of the evening from the Dundee Perth and Cupar advertiser, Tuesday 8th April 1845. It says it was “Abridged from Ladies’ Journal” but I am not finding the Ladies’ Journal. Anyway this article is long and detailed enough for us.

This splendid entertainment, unique in its character – the universal topic of conversation in the fashionable circles for some time past – the subject of the most agreeable anticipations, and connected with so many interesting associations, took place on Tuesday night, in the Assembly Rooms, George Street, and was eminently successful; not only as a splendid pageant, gratifying to the votaries of fashion, but as the source of social delight to that crowded assemblage of rank and beauty by which it was attended; and it may be regarded, besides, as a great national festival, when we consider that it was designed to aid in the final completion of the Monument – one of the finest specimens of architectural beauty in Europe – erected in honour of departed genius. Never was any entertainment in this city so numerously and brilliantly attended. Nearly sixteen hundred of the first classes in society were present. The Directors, with a view of limiting the demand, advertised on Monday, that as soon as thirteen hundred tickets were disposed of, the price would be doubled. Such was the excitement, however, that this increased charge did not prevent the demand; and it being then evident that additional accommodation must be obtained, the Directors issued orders to Mr Scrymgeour to fit-up all the corridors, dressing rooms, and even the house-keeper’s apartments, in the same style as the Assembly Rooms and the Music Hall.
The stairs were covered with crimson cloth, and the balustrade luxuriantly decked with evergreens. The company were received in the Music Hall – and it was here that the decorations were most profusely displayed. On entering from the lobby, a series of large pannels or compartments, erected at the opposite side of the spacious room immediately in front of and below the organ, met the eye. The centre compartment, embracing a space of ten or twelve feet square, formed the field in which the tableaux vivans appeared, and was surrounded by a deeply-indented rich gold frame. On either side of this space the pannels were arranged diagonally in a direction from the centre one, and presented, on a field of pure white,emblematic figures of the Seasons, bordered with appropriate floral devices. Above the centre compartment (the field of the tableaux vivan) a large arch was erected, enclosing, in a rich transparency, the words –
In addition to this, the same side of the Hall was ornamented throughout its whole extent by a series of banners or escutcheons, suspended on the walls, blazoned with armorial bearings and designs, illustrative of the most remarkable characters and events in the Waverley Novels, and of which the following were the most striking. Over the centre, the arms of the Duke of Buccleuch, with the stag; Mary Queen of Scots, with crown and sceptre; the Abbot, mitre and crozier; the Edinburgh Arms; the Antiquary, Aikin Drum’s long ladle, &c.; Arms of the Pretender; Lady of the Lake; the Covenanters, sword across a Bible and Gaberlunzie plaid; Crusade Banner; “Prodigious!” the Talmud; Bailie Nicol Jervie – “My Conscience!” Arms of George Heriot, &c. Surmounting these decorations the Union jack displayed its ample folds at the east and west extremities of the space referred to. The front of the gallery, at the opposite side of the room, was hung with a profusion of ancient spears, lances, swords, and shields, banners, &c.
But the most striking and (as applicable to the occasion) the chief feature of the decorations was presented in the ball room, which was ornamented in an extremely chaste and elegant style. In the centre of this apartment, directly opposite the entrance, a large oval embrasure was seen, lined with crimson, the centre of which was occupied with a fine marble bust of Sir Walter Scott, enveloped all around in a most beautiful wreath of laurel delineated in jets in gas studding the back ground. Above this the Royal arms were emblazoned on a large scale. The peculiarly striking effect of this device was chiefly derived from its chaste simplicity and classical elegance. The ball room was hung, in addition, throughout much of its extent, with banners of the Knights Templars and the other distinguished corps patronizing the ball.
The company began to assemble about nine o’clock, from which hour carriages arrived in constant succession till nearly twelve. Dancing commenced immediately after the first arrivals, to Mackenzie’s Band, which was stationed in the ball room, whilst the fine band of the Scots Greys lent animation to the promenade in the Music Hall.
About eleven o’clock, when the whole company had assembled, the coup d’œil of the ball room, the centre of attraction, and the adjacent promenades crowded with beauty and fashion – the élite of society – was most brilliant. The gay throng presented one unvarying aspect of enjoyment and delight. Every countenance beamed with pleasure – a congenial sympathy with the purpose and object of the elegant and joyous assemblage animated every one; the splendid and appropriate ornaments which decorated the Hall added to the attractions; and the bright and fantastic colours of the various costumes, reflected in the flood of light shed over the whole, and flitting before the eye in the movements of the dance – the quadrille, the graceful polka, or the animated Scots reel – imparted an enchanting aspect to the scene of revelry; and somewhat of a more interesting and classical character, as they conjured up in the mind the bright recollections of bygone days.
There was perhaps nothing more striking in this gay scene than the avidity with which every available space was occupied for the dance; Wherever the music could be heard, there might be seen the fair and gay tripping it lightly. The following quadrilles, with which the dancing commenced in the Music Hall, had a peculiarly splendid effect, the ladies and gentlemen taking part being all in fancy costumes of the most splendid and recherche description, each quadrille as near as possible consisting of the characters in one novel.
Queen Berengaria – Mrs Gillon; Edith Plantagenet – Mrs M. Ainslie; Floris – Miss Gillon; Calista – Miss Ainslie; Lady of the Court – Miss A Haig of Newpark; Evelina Berenger – Miss A Crawford; Turkish Lady – Miss Turner; Greek Lady – Miss Crawford.
Richard Cœur de Lion – Mr Gillon; Saladin – Mr A. Haig; Blondel – Captain Millar; Giles Amaury – Mr Aytoun; Knight Templar – Mr Lawrie; Conrad – Mr Cobbe; Cadet de Bateaux – Mr Balfour Ogilvie; Templar (Knight) – Mr Pigott.
QUADRILLE PARTY, in COSTUME of the time of LOUIS QUATORZE. Mr Street, Mr Patterson, Mr Woodhouse, Mr Gillum, Mr Dundas, Mr Rich, Mr Lloyd, Mr Maxwell, Miss Street, Miss Lacon, Miss A. Lacon, Miss Clerk Rattray, Miss M. Clerk Rattray, Miss Dundas, Miss A. Dundas, Miss Abercromby.

At twelve o’clock the ringing of a bell announced the exhibition of the tableaux vivans in the Music Hall, which thereupon became the centre of attraction to the company. The various scenes depicted were admirably managed.
1. Prince Charles Edward in the Cave after the Battle of Culloden, designed to embody Duncan’s celebrated painting.
2. Balfour of Burleigh and Henry Morton in the cave.
3. The Glee Maiden, after Lauder’s well-known picture.
4. A scene from the Betrothed – The Lady taking the place of the Soldier on Guard.
5. The Last Minstrel striking his harp to the last lay. This was Mr Byrne, the celebrated Irish harper, who afterwards afforded great delight to the company by his performances on his favourite instrument.
6. Statue of Sir Walter Scott.
After the exhibition of the tableaux, dancing was resumed, and continued until the morning was far advanced.
Abridged from Ladies’ Journal

Dundee Perth and Cupar advertiser, Tue 8 Apr 1845 p2
Talitha Mackenzie (in blue-green) and her dancers doing Quadrilles in the Ball Room, 20th Jan 2017. The band is sitting in the recess where the lit-up bust of Scott was put.

I have put the entire article here because I think it gives us enough context for the evening. The venue was the Assembly Rooms which have been restored to their original appearance; I played there as part of Talitha Mackenzie’s 1817 bicentenary ball in 2017. We see that the ball room, the main room at the front of the building (where Talitha’s event was held) was where the rather blingy display in the recess opposite the door, with the bust of Walter Scott surrounded by lights. The Music Room is at the back of the building, and that is where Byrne appeared.

We have to read the article carefully to get a sense of how Byrne’s appearance worked. The article describes how as series of “pannels” were erected in the Music Hall, opposite the entrance door (I guess where the stage is now). The central “pannel” was about four metres wide, with an ornate gold frame around it; this was where the “tableaux vivans” (living pictures) were to be. Then “diagonally” to left and right of this central gold-framed area were “pannels” representing the four seasons, with floral displays. And over the top was a huge illuminated sign “Waverley Ball Tableaux Vivans”, and then all the different Waverley Novels themed banners and stuff.

Late in the evening, everyone had arrived; the dancing was in full flow, with a dance band in the main room and also another band in the music hall. Then we are told that at midnight a bell was rung, and the dancing stopped, and everyone crowded into the music room to see the living pictures. It looks to me like these still-life scenes were presented one after the other, using the gold-framed area as a kind of stage. I am assuming that each picture used live actors or models, dressed in costume, who would enter, and arrange themselves in static poses to form the display.

I don’t know how long each tableau lasted; Shannon Murphy on the Art Museum Teaching blog suggests that a curtain would rise on the scene, and the actors would hold their poses for perhaps 30 seconds. Shannon’s blog post reminds me of the workshop I did in Kilkenny in 2019, Replica harps & portraits of harpers as a source for performance practice. Perhaps the curtain came down and then there was a quick change of actors and scenery. I also assume there would be lighting special effects. The descriptions mention the lighting of the event in general terms; Limelights were a fairly new invention at that time.

A report in the Illustrated London News includes some extra details:

The Music-hall, fitted up by Mr. Scrymgeour, was most admired. In the centre of the orchestra was a sort of stage for the exhibition of a series of groups from the Waverley romances; after paintings by Wilkie, Duncan, Lauder, and other artists. These consisted of the following: –
The Betrothed, arranged by Mr. Johnstone.
The Chevalier, arranged by Mr. Christie
The Glee Maiden, arranged by Mr Lauder
Balfour and Morton, arranged by John Ballantine
Lay of the Last Minstrel, arranged by James Ballantine.

Illustrated London News, Sat 12 Apr 1845, p237

The order of the tableaux given in the ILN is different, so we will follow the Advertiser, but the information about the artists who “arranged” each scene is interesting.

An early (c.1860) photograph of the Duncan painting, courtesy of the University of St Andrews Libraries and Museums, ID: ALB-49-117

The first tableau was to show the scene of Bonnie Prince Charlie in a cave, based on the painting by Duncan. I imagine that there would have been seven actors, dressed in costumes; five would form the group on the right with the dog and the weapons; one would be dressed as the Prince and would lie across the middle, and one would be dressed as Flora MacDonald and would hold the dramatic pose on the left foreground. Mr. Christie (perhaps Alexander Christie, 1807 – 1860) would have been like the stage director, organising and co-ordinating the actors. I do not know how much of the scenery of the painting would be re-created in the tableau; there is a branch or stick on the left with a harp hung on it. Alasdair Macleod has suggested a similarity of the harp in the painting and engraving, with a decorative stage-prop harp now in the National Museum of Scotland, which originally belonged to one of Patrick Byrne’s patrons, Alicia, Lady John Scott, who we are told he stayed with on this trip (see below). Could her harp have been used in the tableau?

The second tableau showed Balfour of Burley and Henry Morton in the cave. These were characters from the fifth Waverly novel, Old Mortality. Perhaps the scene was a practical way to re-use the cave backdrop or scenery. The arranger was I presume John Ballantyne (1815-1897), portrait and history painter.

Undated sketch by Lauder. SNGMA, CC-BY-NC

The third tableau was a representation of Robert Scott Lauder’s painting of The Glee Maiden (a character from one of the late novels, The Fair Maid of Perth). Lauder did three or four different paintings of “The Glee Maiden”; An engraving of one of Lauder’s paintings was published in 1844, but I can’t find a copy of the engraving to show you; the British Museum catalogue says “A monk holding open a door in a church and looking sternly at a young woman dressed in bright clothes, carrying a lute and shawl, with a spaniel on a lead which barks at a skull rolling out from behind the door, with a tomb bearing an effigy of a knight behind them and a man just visible in a shadowy arcade in the background to right.” However we see that the scene was arranged by Mr Lauder and so it could have been based on any of his paintings.

The fourth tableau is a scene from The Betrothed, but I don’t have much to say about it. There were a couple of different artist in Edinburgh at the time called Johnston.

The fifth tableau was not from the Waverley Novels at all, but from Sir Walter Scott’s earlier epic poem, The Lay of the Last Minstrel. Our harper, Patrick Byrne, was the actor, and was dressed to represent “the Last Minstrel striking his harp to the last lay”.

The sixth and final tableau was a “Statue of Sir Walter Scott”. Perhaps one of the actors was dressed as Scott, and struck a suitably statuesque pose, perhaps standing on a plinth. Or perhaps the final tableau was not a living actor at all, but an actual statue, left on the stage while the ball-goers turned their attention to the supper which was being served.

Byrne’s tableau

We are told by the Dundee Perth and Cupar Advertiser that Byrne was dressed to represent “The Last Minstrel striking his harp to the last lay”; the Illustrated London News says that the scene was “Lay of the Last Minstrel, arranged by James Ballantine.” Presumably this was the author and stained glass artist (1806-1877) who dressed and posed Byrne.

I am not entirely sure what episode in the epic poem this was meant to represent, or if it was more of a character study. Édouard de Saint-Ours sent me his essay The quintessential bard: Hill & Adamson and the quest for a Scottish national identity (University of St Andrews School of Art History, 2016) which argues that Byrne’s costume and presentation owes more to ideas of Ossian than to border minstrels.

illustration from the Tilt edition of The Lay of the Last Minstrel, 1835

I did wonder if Byrne may have been part of a group of characters, posed to copy a scene from Scott’s epic poem such as the Landseer / Adlard illustration shown here from an 1835 edition of the poem (shown here). But actually I suspect that the tableau was not a busy scene like this, but a solo portrait, with Byrne in costume sitting still and silent at his harp.

The Illustrated London News printed a drawing of Byrne, which may show how he was presented in the tableau:

Our Edinburgh artist has sketched one of the most interesting portraitures of the ball – Mr Byrne, the celebrated harper, in the character of the “Last Minstrel,” as he appeared in the tableau vivant from that heart-stirring poem. At the conclusion of the tableau, Mr. Byrne played a national melody; and subsequently, in one of the ante-rooms, attracted around him groups of the company, whose picturesque dresses rendered the scene particularly interesting.

Illustrated London News, Sat 12 Apr 1845, p238
Illustrated London News, Sat 12 Apr 1845, p236

I find it interesting that Patrick Byrne dressed in a blanket and just sitting with his harp, could outcompete the lavish and dramatic scenes that the other tableaux modelled by professional actors must have presented. There must have been something really captivating about having the real thing there, and the way that Byrne came to life at the end and played “a national melody” must have been quite enchanting. The entire evening seems to have been very charged, with the bright artificial light, the decorated rooms, and the throngs of brightly dressed elegant and fashionable ball-goers.

I don’t actually know who the second figure in the drawing is. It is possible that he is part of the tableau, and is meant to represent the Last Minstrel’s servant boy. The article text seems to suggest that this is a drawing of the tableau. On the other hand the description could possibly indicate that the second figure is a ball-goer in the ante-room afterwards.

I don’t know how accurate this drawing is. Some of the details look decidedly dubious, especially the base of the harp, and the hands on the strings. How much has the artist reconstructed the scene (wrongly) from memory?

Luckily for us, we have photographs which we can use to compare the drawing with.

Having his photograph taken

David Octavius Hill, Robert Adamson and Jessie Mann were pioneering photographers, using the Calotype process. They worked from a studio at Rock House, on Calton Hill in Ediburgh.

The Calotype process of making a photograph produced a paper negative; then any number of positive prints could be made by clamping a second piece of photosensitive paper face-to-face with the paper negative, and exposing it by putting it in the sun. Because the sun had to shine through the back of the paper negative, the positives are a bit fuzzy, compared to the amazingly crisp negatives, but multiple positives could be made, allowing a photograph to be duplicated and distributed. The calotype process required a lot of light, and so the images were usually taken in bright sunlight. The studio at Rock House was outside on the terrace in the garden.

It seems that Patrick Byrne went up to the Calton Hill studio at some point before or after the Waverley Ball, to have his portrait photographs taken. I don’t know of any secure dating information for these photos. The calotypes are usually said to have been done in the spring of 1845 but it is all a bit hand-wavey. Sometimes (e.g. in Sara Stevenson’s Catalogue) the calotypes are said to have been actually done on 1st April 1845, i.e. during the day before the ball in the evening, but I don’t know if this is just a guess or a misunderstanding.

I am aware of eight different poses of Patrick Byrne that were taken apparently at the Calton Hill studio and apparently all in the one sitting. No one collection seems to hold a copy of all eight images, but I have been looking for years and these are the ones I am aware of. Sara Stevenson’s book David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson: Catalogue of Their Calotypes Taken Between 1843 and 1847 in the Collection of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery (Edinburgh 1981, p.48) includes small reproductions of some of the images; she gives letters A through to F to the six different images that are in the SNPG collection. I continued this idea and call the two other poses that are not in Stevenson’s catalogue the letters G and H.

I previously listed all the portraits on my old website in 2010-16, but we can go through them again here.

A is perhaps the best-known, since it was reproduced by Robert Bruce Armstrong in his 1904 Irish and Highland Harps as an additional plate, inserted while the book was in press. The supplemental pages inserted after p136 explain that “a number of negatives of Byrne are in the possession of Mr Andrew Elliot of Prince’s Street, Edinburgh, and with his kind permission one of them has been printed by the collotype process…” Armstrong would have used the original paper negative to create the positive collotype printing plate, which would have run off all the copies for the book; the prints seem fuzzier than usual for positives made from paper negatives. In his text, Armstrong describes details of the stringing of Byrne’s harp which are not visible on the positive image, but which Armstrong could presumably see on the negative. I don’t know what happened to these negatives that belonged to Andrew Elliot; the negatives are unique, so they may not exist any more. One may be negative C in the SNPG (see below). Armstrong implies there were at least four: “besides portraits of Byrne in this fancy dress, there are others in a swallow-tailed evening coat and trousers”.

B shows Byrne wearing the blanket and also a tartan plaid draped around his middle. There is an antique-looking helmet as a prop in the left foreground. This image is from the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, used under license, CC-BY-NC.

C shows Byrne dressed in the blanket, but his hands are not on the harp; he is holding a jug instead. I created this image from the original negative which is in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, used under license CC-BY-NC. The SNPG image is a paper negative, i.e. it is the unique original produced in the camera, which the paper positives would have been made from. The catalogue says it is from the Elliot Collection so this may be one of the negatives that Armstrong saw. I edited the image on the computer, flipping the negative left-to-right, and then inverted the colours. Unfortunately the paper negative of image c appears to be somewhat over-exposed, so this image does not have as much detail of the face and costume as the other calotypes. On the other hand there is a lot to see in this image, with the detail of the harp showing especially well.

D is a close up showing Byrne from the waist up, wearing the blanket and plaid. This portrait shows some more details of the costume; you can see Byrne’s shirt collar, as if he is dressed normally under the blanket. You can also see the fringed border of the tartan plaid around his waist. This image is from the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, used under license CC-BY-NC.

E is another close up, showing Byrne wearing the blanket and holding the jug. This image has a lot of fine detail including showing Byrne’s hands and fingernails. I made this image as a digital positive, from an original calotype negative in the Heritage Collections, University of Edinburgh, Coll-1073, used under license CC-BY.

F shows a full length portrait of Patrick Byrne dressed in his normal clothes, a dark tail-coat and dark trousers. It is very interesting to see him suddenly out of the blanket costume, and without the ivy leaves on his head; no longer is he the “last minstrel” but he is just a professional musician posing with his instrument. The venue and the chair are the same though; I imagine this is the outdoors studio in the gardens of Rock House on Calton Hill, in direct sunlight to get enough light for a good image. This image is from the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, used under license CC-BY-NC.

G shows a close up of Byrne, dressed in his ordinary clothes. I made this image from a negative which is on the Preus Museum Flickr (“no known copyright restrictions”). I flipped the negative image and inverted the colours to create a digital positive image. This is a particularly good negative, with an incredibly crisp amount of detail. You can clearly see Byrne’s face pock-marked from the childhood smallpox that left him blind. You can also see his tartan waistcoat. This image is not in Sara Stevenson’s Catalogue, and I call it “G” to continue the sequence.

H is also not in Stevenson’s Catalogue and so I am calling it “H” to continue the sequence. It is another full length side view of Byrne at the harp. The only original print of this portait I have ever seen belongs to Glasgow University Library, who gave me permission to show it to you here. This image is GUL ref. no. HA0045, by permission of University of Glasgow Archives and Special Collections.

I am presuming that all eight portraits were done at the same time in the same session, though of course they may have been done over more than one day, or even at different times. I don’t know of any records that tell us. I am assuming that the portraits were done some time not too long after the Waverley Ball, perhaps in April or May or June 1845.

We can compare the photographic portraits with the Illustrated London News sketch; the ILN’s artist has drawn a different costume. In the sketch, Byrne’s arms are bare; the blanket or robe is more draped over his shoulders like a cape, whereas the blanket in the photographs is just cut with a slit neck; and on his head in the sketch he is wearing a circlet, whereas the photographs show ivy leaves. And finally the ILN sketch shows Byrne with long hair and a beard, which may represent a wig and false beard which we know were often worn by the traditional harpers when they were costumed up for parades and other theatrical events.

I don’t really believe that the calotype photographs represent Byrne in costume for “the Last Minstrel” tableau at the ball. We know that for the tableau in the Waverley Ball on 1st April, Byrne was dressed and posed by the artist James Ballantine. But we also know that at the Rock House studio, Hill was the artist, and we can presume that he had his own ideas about how to set and dress a subject for their calotype portrait. It is quite possible that Hill got the idea of a blanket costume from the ball, but we could be seeing two independent attempts to dress Byrne as an ancient bard. I think the photographs were set up separately from the tableau, with Hill directing and arranging the scene and costume and props. Sara Stevenson told me “the helmet in the picture is a medieval piece which belonged to David Octavius Hill and he refers to the ‘costume, which, made of a blanket and plaid shows how simply one might get up pictures of the old world’ (ms letter from Hill to Lady Ruthven, 1847, collection of the Royal Scottish Academy)” (private correspondence, 6th March 2000)

I don’t know what the purpose of the portrait session was; whose idea it was to make the photographs; who got to have prints, whether Byrne took prints to give to his patrons or whether the prints were controlled and sold by the studio. In his first will, done a year and a half later on 2 Nov 1846 (see the online transcription by Keith Sanger), Patrick Byrne mentions “a likeness of myself which hangs in the house keepers room at Eatington Park”, which he bequeaths to his patron’s son and heir, so this portrait was still owned by Byrne even though it was hung in Ettington Park in Warwickshire. I wonder if this is one of these Calotype portraits that Byrne had been given by the studio?

It has always struck me as an interesting project, that a whole series of quite dramatic and ground-breaking portraits would be taken of a blind subject. And the tableaux at the ball on 1st April 1845 were also a very visual event. I do wonder what Byrne thought of all this, and how much he was actively involved in planning and doing these events, and how much he was a passive actor in someone else’s project. I think the costumes are a sign that Byrne is playing a role in someone else’s world-view, a long way away from his own world as a traditional musician.

Visiting patrons in Scotland

The sequence of events in the first half of 1845 is not entirely clear. It looks like Byrne was already in Scotland by 30th Jan. Obviously he was in Edinburgh by 12th March, to do the Waverley Ball on 1st April. But his movements between January and mid-March, and between early April and mid June, are very unclear. Hopefully more records will be found that can help us to tighten up this story.

We do have an article from June which gives us some tid-bits of information about who he was visiting.

… He has … been residing with the Duke of Buccleuch, Duke of Leeds, Lord John Scott, and others…

Greenock Advertiser Tue 24 Jun 1845 p2

We have already met Byrne’s important patrons Walter Francis Montagu Douglas Scott, 5th Duke of Buccleuch and his younger brother, Lord John Scott, and Lord John’s wife, Alicia Ann, Lady John Scott. I imagine that Byrne would have been staying with Walter at Dalkeith Palace, and perhaps with the Scotts at Caroline Park near Edinburgh.

However I don’t think we have met Francis Osborne, 7th Duke of Leeds yet. He had a lot of different heraldic titles; his Scottish title was 6th Viscount Osborne of Dunblane. I have seen references that he took a lease on Mar Lodge, near Braemar in Aberdeenshire, where he dressed all of the staff in tartan uniforms. Perhaps Patrick Byrne went and stayed there, and played the harp in the Stag Ballroom.

The July news clipping also raher unhelpfully tells us that Byrne spent some time staying with “other” patrons as well.

It seems that Byrne went back to Edinburgh in mid-June. I suppose it is possible that the photographs were done at this point, rather than back in April.

… Last week he visited Edinburgh, and was welcomed there by Mr Robert Chambers, Dr. Moir, Mr. Ballantine, and other literary gentlemen of that city and neighbourhood, who were delighted with his intelligence and complacence, as well as with his musical abilities…

Greenock Advertiser Tue 24 Jun 1845 p2

We have already met the author James Ballantyne, who had dressed and set Patrick Byrne for his tableau vivant on 1st April. Robert Chambers (1802-1871) was a very interesting publisher and writer, interested in geology and evolution. I think Dr. Moir must be David Macbeth Moir (1798-1851). It is interesting that Byrne is being picked up by the literary gentlemen.

While he was in Edinburgh in mid-June, Byrne became a Freemason.

Masonic Initiation

At the beginning of June, Patrick Byrne was initiated into two different Masonic lodges. We have both of the certificates that were issued to Byrne, preserved in his private papers. Both Keith Sanger and John Scully have also consulted masonic records, but I am not very clear in my understanding of what happened when exactly. Partly that is because I know almost nothing about how masonic initiations operate. I also think that these certificates are more interesting and informative for a study of Freemasonry than for a study of Patrick Byrne.

On Friday 13th June 1845, Patrick Byrne was awarded his certificate from the Celtic Lodge of Edinburgh and Leith No. 291. The certificate is a spectacular piece of engraved printing, with lavish decorative borders, and printed bilingually in two columns of copperplate script, the left column in English and the right column in Scottish Gaelic. The printed certificate has spaces left to be filled in by hand, and Byrne’s name and the date have been entered, though it is interesting that the English form of the name “Patrick Byrne” has been used on the Gaelic side as well as the English side. Nowadays we would be very careful to write something like “Pádraig Ó Beirne” on the Gaelic side. Down the right margin, the certificate has been countersigned: “Patrick Byrne / His + mark”. The certificate has a ribbon attached and is kept tightly folded.

John Scully (Ah how d’you do sir, p.50) prints a short excerpt which, though unreferenced, appears to come from masonic records. Scully’s except reads “Proposed by Brother Andrew Murray; First or Entered 11th June 1845; Second or Fellow 13th June 1845; Third or Sublime Degree 13th June 1845…” so it looks like Patrick Byrne was being fast-tracked through the process. The proposer seems to have been Andrew Murray (1812-1878), the anti-Darwinian naturalist.

Once again we can wonder how much Patrick Byrne himself was instigating events here, or how much he was humouring his aristocratic and learned patrons and going along with their ideas.

Travelling to Greenock

At some point between Friday 13th June and Thursday 19th June 1845, Patrick Byrne travelled from Edinburgh to Greenock, about 35km west of Glasgow. At the moment I don’t know why he went there; presumably it was organised by one of his aristocratic patrons who wanted him to visit them. It was also on his route from Edinburgh back to Ireland.

In the course of last week, Mr. B., who was paying a short visit here, happened to be present at a meeting of the Greenock St. John’s Lodge of Masons, and with his usual complacence played a few tunes. The brethren were so delighted with the instrument, as well as with the performer and the performance, that they persuaded him to remain…

Greenock Advertiser Tue 24 Jun 1845 p2

I think the meeting was on Thursday 19th June. In Patrick Byrne’s papers is a certificate presented to him by the Greenock St. John’s No.176 Lodge. The certificate is not dated except for the year 1845. The Greenock certificate is also elaborately printed, with a different lavish border design. The bilingual copperplate text is in two columns, English on the left and Latin on the right. Byrne’s name has been filled in, “Patrick Byrne” on the left and “Patricius Byrne” on the right, and the certificate has been endorsed at the top “Honorary Master [Mason]”. The certificate has a slender blue-grey ribbon threaded through the edge, and has been countersigned up the right margin “his / Patrick X Byrne / mark”. John Scully prints a small poor quality photograph of the Greenock certificate in his book (p51).

Concert in Greenock

After the Masonic presentation on Thursday 19th June 1845, the Masons organised a public concert for the next day, Friday 20th June 1845, at the Buck Head Hall, which was at 2, Watson’s Lane. The entire area was demolished in the 1960s and 1970s and replaced by a shopping centre; I think that Watson’s Lane was about where the Crown Street Tunnel entrance to the Oak Mall shopping centre is now. There is a 1935 photo looking down Watson’s Lane online at the the McLean Museum and Art Gallery.

And then after the weekend (perhaps playing for private events for his patrons), Byrne did a concert in the Assembly Rooms (also now demolished) on Tuesday 24th June 1845. This article explains the whole thing (including the excerpts we have looked at above).

Old Irish Harpers – Mr. Byrne. – This evening, in the Assembly Rooms, a treat of a very delightful kind is offered to the public of this community. We refer to the opportunity of hearing the old Irish harp played by Mr. Patrick Byrne, a most pleasing and accomplished musician. In the course of last week, Mr. B., who was paying a short visit here, happened to be present at a meeting of the Greenock St. John’s Lodge of Masons, and with his usual complacence played a few tunes. The brethren were so delighted with the instrument, as well as with the performer and the performance, that they persuaded him to remain till next evening, that others might share in the gratification they had felt. Accordingly, on Friday evening, a large party assembled in the Buck Head Hall, and all were delighted with the admirable taste and skill of Mr Byrne’s performances on his truly national instrument. He has kindly consented to lengthen his stay here till tonight, when he is to appear in the Assembly Rooms, and we strongly recommend all lovers of fine music, and all who have a reverence for things of the olden times, to embrace an opportunity they will probably never again enjoy of hearing, splendidly played on, the veritable instrument, which, for probably a thousand years, comforted, amused, and delighted the inhabitants of the Green Isle. Mr. Byrne is well known throughout the country, and is always a welcome visitor at the houses of the chief of our nobility. A short time ago he was sent for by the Queen, and performed before her Majesty and Prince Albert, the latter of whom especially took great interest in the blind Irish harper and his instrument, and appointed him harper to his Royal Highness. He has more recently been residing with the Duke of Buccleuch, Duke of Leeds, Lord John Scott, and others. Last week he visited Edinburgh, and was welcomed there by Mr Robert Chambers, Dr. Moir, Mr. Ballantine, and other literary gentlemen of that city and neighbourhood, who were delighted with his intelligence and complacence, as well as with his musical abilities.

Greenock Advertiser Tue 24 Jun 1845 p2

The article finishes with the often-repeated quote from Chambers Edinburgh Journal, no. 451, Sat 19 Sep 1840, p279 (see Part 3 for a discussion).

An advertisement was placed on the next page of the newspaper.

(By Appointment, to his Royal Highness Prince Albert,)
WILL Perform a number of IRISH, SCOTCH and WELSH AIRS on the IRISH HARP, in the ASSEMBLY ROOMS, Cathcart Street, on TUESDAY, 24th instant.
Doors Open at Half-past 7 o’Clock, to Commence at 8 o’Clock.
Performance to close at 10.
Tickets to be had of Mr. J. G. BANKIER, Book and Music Seller, and at the door.
Reserved Seats, 1s. 6d. – Back Seats, 1s.
Greenock, 24th June, 1845

Greenock Advertiser Tue 24 Jun 1845 p3

We have a review of the concert from three days later:

Mr. Byrne, the Irish Harper. – On Tuesday evening, a large and most respectable audience attended in the Assembly Rooms here to listen to the beautiful performance of Mr. Byrne on his truly national and delightful instrument, the Irish harp. The clear metallic sound of the strings is extremely pleasant, and the taste and skill Mr. B displayed in his performance called forth hearty applause. “The Angel’s Whisper,” “The Duke of Athol’s March,” “Kate Kearney,” “The Coolin,” “Erin-go-Bragh,” &c. &c. were splendidly performed, and were loudly cheered. He also sung with much taste and excellent effect several Irish airs, and recited with a very rich brogue, amid great laughter, one or two amusing stories. He kept up the interest uninterruptedly for above two hours, and all were well pleased with the evening’s entertainment. Mr. Byrne left this on Wednesday for Belfast greatly delighted with the kindness of the inhabitants of the good town to the blind Irish harper.

Greenock Advertiser Fri 27 Jun 1845, p2

This is a lovely review with some choice quotes, e.g. “The clear metallic sound of the strings is extremely pleasant”. We also get a snapshot of his programme, with the spoken word storytelling, and him singing. We can also look at the tune titles we are given, which I assume he played on the harp as instrumental pieces:

The Angel’s Whisper is a song by Samuel Lover, for which Lover had used the traditional air “Mary do you fancy me?”. I already wrote up this tune as part of my Transcriptions Project: D’éalaigh Máire liom. I struggled then to understand the development of the tune, since it was published in the 18th century. I would guess that Byrne was playing this as a traditional tune, but he was (as usual) using the popular 19th century title for the tune. I’m not finding a traditional performance of the tune for you to listen to.

I don’t know what tune The Duke of Athol’s March may be. In the 1780s, Daniel Dow gives the title Is fhada mar seo tha sinn / Duke of Atholl’s March to a variant of the pibroch tune, PS161; however this tune is a version of the famous MacFarlane’s Gathering, with its words A Thogail nam Bò, which were referenced by Walter Scott in the Waverley Novels; we might think that if Byrne was playing that tune he might have used the “McFarlane’s Gathering” title instead. Barnaby Brown also discusses how the title Is fhada mar seo tha sinn is also applied in early sources to a different tune, PS165. However that seems to be a far less well known tune in the tradition; I would be expecting Byrne to be choosing well-known pibroch tunes that his audience would be a bit familiar with. It is possible that Byrne was not playing either of these two pibroch tunes, but some other march altogether, but I am not finding other marches called The Duke of Athol’s March. I am not entirely sure what Byrne may have been playing here. We can listen to an interesting performance of PS161 anyway.

I have written up the tune of Kate Kearney, as part of my post on the harper Kate Martin.

The Coolin is one of our standards, and I will never tire of listening to Joe Ryan:

Erin go Bragh is the common title in the 19th century for the traditional tune of Savourneen Deelish.

I think we can see in this concert review a snapshot of Patrick Byrne the traditional musician, choosing his programme, mixing solid traditional repertory with popular crowd-pleasers, and varying the sound by intermixing harp solos, songs (whether accompanied, unaccompanied or both) and stories. The review’s statement “He kept up the interest uninterruptedly for above two hours” shows how competent he must have been as a musician and performer.

Travelling from Scotland to Ireland

The article finishes with the snippet of information that Patrick Byrne left Scotland and travelled on the ferry from Greenock to Belfast on Wednesday 25th June 1845.

I think we will leave it at that for now, and we can pick up the rest of the year in Ireland in Part 6.

As usual, I have updated my map with the places mentioned in this post.

Other harpers

In March 1845, while Byrne was staying in Edinburgh, there was by co-incidence another traditional Irish harper also working (briefly) in Scotland. Alex Jackson was in Glasgow on 17th March 1845, to play for the St Patrick’s Day dinner. Jackson had this as a regular gig, travelling over every year from 1842 through to 1846 at least to play for the annual dinner of the Benevolent Society. He seems to have usually travelled over and back just for this one event and did not spend any more time in Scotland.

The other traditional harpers were busy working all over Ireland. You can check my timeline to see that there were lots of traditional harpers active in Ireland in 1845.

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