FolkWorld #69 07/2019
© Lily Neill / Linen Hall Library

Access the Past, Enrich the Future

Linen Hall

A Celebration of The Beath Collection And the Bicentennial of the Irish Harp Society of Belfast (1819-39)

12 September 2019
Frank Bunting	
Nicholas Carolan	
Simon Chadwick	
Philip McDonagh	
Lily Neill	
Dr. Mary Louise O’Donnell

Arthur O'Neill (1734-1818)

   Related Features:

A look into one of Linen Hall Library’s most fascinating collections, with music, speakers, and insights into early 19th century Belfast!

Lily Neill

»Linen Hall Library was established in 1788 and is a unique place in Belfast, famous for promoting knowledge and the life of the mind. It now also happens to by synonymous with the Irish Harp, as they have many papers from Edward Bunting’s efforts to transcribe and publish music from the last official gathering of Irish harp players in 1792. Belfast’s 1819 Irish Harp Society was funded almost entirely by the Bengal Subscription in India and is particularly significant, as the Society proved the catalyst for John Egan’s forays into Irish harp making. Egan was a Dublin pedal harp maker who was commissioned to make Irish Harps (ie wire strung) for the Society’s school. As the Irish harp fell out of favour—put simply—his new Royal Portable Harp became the inspiration for today’s lever harps.«

Artist Video Lily Neill

To celebrate the Bicentenary of the Irish Harp Society of Belfast (1819-39), we present a colloquium that draws together strands from Linen Hall’s Beath Collection.

In 1974, Mrs. Norah Beath — the granddaughter of architect and noted music collector Robert Young — donated a collection of manuscripts to Linen Hall Library. This collection contains a wealth of material from the 18th and 19th centuries tied to music — as well as social reform, politics, and more. Many of the manuscripts are connected with influential music collectors and musicians, including Edward Bunting, Patrick Lynch, Robert MacAdam, Mary Ann McCracken, and William Ware.

Of special interest this year are papers from the collection regarding the Irish Harp Society of Belfast (1819 - 39) and the “Bengal Subscription”. The financial support of the Bengal Subscription made possible the Irish Harp Society’s existence as well as its efforts to “revive the Harp and Ancient Music of Ireland” by training a new generation of harp players.

By coming together to mark the Bicentenary of the Irish Harp Society and celebrating the treasures that comprise the Beath Collection we hope to raise funds that will go toward its long-term preservation and eventual digitisation. Thus, future generations can more readily access the past — and enrich the future.

Presenters/Performers include:

Frank Bunting, who has researched and published two extensive articles in Dúiche Néill exploring Edward Bunting's familial roots — roots that Mr. Bunting shares — and the forces that drove Edward Bunting to collect and publish Irish harp music.

Nicholas Carolan, whose vast contributions to Irish Music include co-founding the Irish Traditional Music Archive. Mr. Carolan is currently the Archive’s Director Emeritus, and will talk about Irish Traditional Music in the Beath Collection.

Simon Chadwick, who, in an extension of his research of historic Irish harps and Bunting’s manuscripts, will perform a selection of tunes from the old Irish harp tradition on a reconstruction of an 18th century Irish harp.

Philip McDonagh, a former ambassador to India and current Overseas Citizen of India, who will speak about his visits to Irish missionary foundations there (Presbyterian, Church of Ireland, and Roman Catholic), and literary and cultural links between Ireland and India.

Lily Neill, who will perform a program highlighting the development of the lever harp, with repertoire spanning the 1500s to the present. Early incarnations of this harp supplanted the old Irish harp in the 19th century to accommodate changing music trends.

Dr. Mary Louise O’Donnell, author and Fulbright Scholar, who will talk about the crucial role that the Irish Harp Society of Belfast played in the education of Irish harpers from 1819 - 39 and the significance of the Bengal Subscription.

We invite you to celebrate the Bicentenary of the Irish Harp Society and revel in the treasures of the Beath Collection with us. This modest collection deserves our attention and, just as the Irish Harp Society sought to preserve and further the harp tradition, we too seek to ensure that the marvels of the Beath Collection are readily available for future generations.

Photo Credits: (1) Linen Hall, (2) Lily Neill, (3) Arthur O'Neill (unknown/website).

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