Image from the Archive

Image from the Archive

Patrick Byrne or Pádraig Ó Beirn (c. 1794–1863), Irish harper and singer, the first Irish traditional musician to have been photographed: one of several calotypes of Byrne taken in Edinburgh by David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson, probably in 1845.

Patrick Byrne, from Farney, Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan, received at least some of his musical education in a school of the Belfast Harp Society, seemingly the one conducted by the Tyrone harper Edward McBride from 1819 to 1822. Byrne was among the most talented of the Harp Society pupils, and provided music for the collector Edward Bunting. He was able to live comfortably as a professional travelling harper specialising in Irish airs from the 1820s. Blind, he was regarded as a gentleman harper, and played throughout Ireland and Britain for a network of patrons, giving concerts in the principal towns and in the houses of the nobility and gentry, including a performance before Queen Victoria at Balmoral which resulted in him being appointed Irish Harper to Prince Albert in 1841. In the 1840s Byrne was living in Edinburgh where, at the time of this photograph, he had performed at a Waverley ball, dressed in bardic robes to illustrate Sir Walter Scott’s poem ‘The Lay of the Last Minstrel’ and playing on a wire-strung harp made by John Egan of Dublin. Byrne returned to Ireland about 1846, where he was house musician to the land-owning Shirley family of Carrickmacross while continuing his Irish and British travels. He died in Dundalk, Co. Louth, and the aristocratic Irish harping tradition may be said to have died with him. Hill and Adamson were pioneering Scottish artist-photographers.

An annual Féile Patrick Byrne is held in Carrickmacross; the fourth one will take place 26–28 March 2010 (see carrickmacross [at]

Courtesy Keith Sanger, Edinburgh, & Irish Traditional Music Archive


Published on 1 February 2010

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