Irish harpist busking in London, c.1900

Ealasaid was looking through George Sims’s amazing books Living London, published around 1900-1903, searching for images to use in her artwork, when she found this lovely photograph in a section about street musicians. This gentleman is playing what looks like an Egan portable harp, or perhaps one of the late 19th century imitations made by Holderness, Morley or other London harpmakers.

He also appears to have a concertina under his arm and there is what I imagine is a collecting box strapped to the pillar of his harp.

The Egan Royal portable harps usually have a strap button at top and bottom of the soundbox, but I don’t recall ever seeing a picture of someone with the harp strapped to themselves before.

Henry George Farmer, in his paper ‘Some Notes on the Irish Harp’, in Music & Letters vol XXIV, April 1943, describes how he remembered seeing an Irish harper busking on the Old Kent Road in about 1900. Farmer said he did not have time to check out who the harper was or how his instrument was set up, leading to much speculation about whether this was the last of the blind students from the Dublin Harp Society, playing one of the big Society wire-strung early Irish harps. However this image suggests that Farmer might have seen this man or someone like him, playing a gut-strung neo-Irish harp.


I am in Dinan, Brittany, for the harp festival. Last night I played with Ailie Robertson and Stefano Corsi at the big evening concert in the Theatre. This press cutting made me laugh: “le roi du répertoire traditionelle gaélique”

Today I have a “rencontre”, a kind of conversation – I am looking forward to this. And then tomorrow afternoon I am playing in the medieval castle, a lovely stone room, a small audience (40 people) and a programme of medieval sacred and secular music.

I have been spending as much time as possible wandering the amazing medieval streets of the town. On the first day I was here I managed to eat crepes, drink local cider, and join in traditional Breton circle dancing. And I came across this excellent busker in the centre of town: