Celebrating the Bicentenary of the Irish Harp Society of Belfast

Lily Neill – performing at the event in Belfast.

Celebrating the Bicentenary of the Irish Harp Society of Belfast

Nicholas Carolan, Mary Louise O’Donnell, Simon Chadwick, Lily Neill, and Frank Bunting – a descendant of the collector Edward Bunting – to participate in event to mark two hundred years since the founding of the Irish Harp Society.

This Thursday 12 September, the Linen Hall Library in Belfast will celebrate the bicentenary of the Irish Harp Society of Belfast, founded in 1819, with a showcase of the contents from its Beath Collection. 

The Beath Collection is one of Linen Hall’s smallest collections, featuring a selection of music materials, mostly manuscripts. The contents of the collection belonged to local historian Robert Magill Young (1851–1925), who researched the history of the Irish Harp Society and who is key to knowledge of the group to this day. In 1974, Young’s granddaughter Norah Beath donated the collection to Linen Hall. The Irish Harp Society in Belfast was one of a number of attempts in the nineteenth century to revive the fortunes of the early Irish harp.

Speaking about the Beath Collection, harper and organiser of the event Lily Neill said:

Two hundred years ago this year, the Irish Harp Society was formed to preserve and further the practice of the Irish harp. Although this Harp Society was only in existence for twenty years, the efforts of those behind it give us invaluable information about the then declining harp tradition. Irish harp history often only extends to the famous Belfast gathering of 1792, with information concerning how the instrument and its players fared in the nineteenth century becoming more and more vague. Linen Hall’s Beath Collection – home to many papers associated with the Irish Harp Society and beyond – provides fascinating glimpses into a compelling chapter of the harp’s history.

The event on Thursday, which begins at 3.30pm, will explore various strands of the collection, mostly music, but also social reform and politics, through presentations, discussions and musical performances. Frank Bunting will speak about his ancestor, the famous collector Edward Bunting; Nicholas Carolan, director emeritus of the Irish Traditional Music Archive, will speak about the Irish traditional music in the collection; Simon Chadwick of the Historical Harp Society of Ireland will perform a selection of tunes from the Irish harp tradition on a reconstruction of an eighteenth-century Irish harp; Lily Neill will also play a set on harp, highlighting the development of the lever harp; Mary Louise O’Donnell, Fulbright scholar and author of Ireland’s Harp: The Shaping of Irish Identity c. 1770–1880, will talk about the important role that the Irish Harp Society of Belfast played in the education of Irish harpers during the years of its establishment; and Philip McDonagh will give a talk titled ‘Do you remember Sinclair Stevenson? Reflections on the Irish missionary tradition in India’.

‘A Celebration of The Beath Collection, and the Bicentennial of the Irish Harp Society of Belfast (1819–39)’ takes place on Thursday 12 September from 3.30pm to 7.30pm. Tickets are £20, with all proceeds going towards the digitisation of the collection. For more, visit: linenhall.com.

Published on 10 September 2019

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