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International Harpists Gather at the Linen Hall for Exclusive Event on 12 September

On Thursday 12 September at 3.30pm – 7.30pm a pre-eminent group of harpists and scholars will gather for one afternoon only in the Linen Hall Library to celebrate Bengal and Belfast coming together to champion the Irish harp on the bicentennial of the Irish Harp Society of Belfast (1819 – 39).

The Linen Hall Library played a significant role in the preservation of traditional Irish harp music. Early members of the Library organised a festival of harp music in July 1792 ‘with the intention of having the music taken down and recorded for the first time’. The Library was also instrumental in supporting the subsequent publishing of this music.

The September colloquium will focus on the Linen Hall’s Beath Collection, which was donated in 1974 by Mrs. Norah Beath – the granddaughter of architect and noted music collector Robert Young. The collection contains a wealth of material from the 18th and 19th centuries tied to music, with many of the manuscripts connected with influential music collectors and musicians – including Edward Bunting, Patrick Lynch, Robert MacAdam, Mary Ann McCracken, and William Ware. Of special interest are papers regarding the Irish Harp Society of Belfast, which marks its bicentenary this year. The Society was funded almost entirely by a group of men and women in India. This group—the “Bengal Subscription”—were Irish, Indian, and of various backgrounds and religions, who came together to support a future for the Irish harp.

The line up on the day features internationally renowned harpist Lily Neill who has performed for presidents, ambassadors, and audiences all over the world. Also performing will be Simon Chadwick who will play on a reconstruction of an 18th century Irish harp. Speakers include Frank Bunting, whose distant relative Edward Bunting was the first person to research and write down traditional Irish harp music; Nicholas Carolan, Director Emeritus of the Irish Traditional Music Archive; Dr. Mary Louise O’Donnell, author and Fulbright Scholar who will discuss the role the Irish Harp Society of Belfast played in the education of Irish harpers; and Philip McDonagh, a former ambassador to India who will examine cultural links between Ireland and India.

Linen Hall Library Director Julie Andrews says: “The celebration of the Beath Collection and the bicentennial of the Irish Harp Society of Belfast on 12 September has been a monumental collaboration of musicians and Irish harp experts from various locations. To bring them all together for one afternoon is a phenomenal achievement and an event not to be missed. Not many people know that the Linen Hall Library played a vital role in the preservation of traditional Irish harp music. The story behind the archive is fascinating.”

Tickets can be obtained from the Linen Hall Library website and cost
£20pp. Proceeds from the event will be used for the long-term preservation and eventual digitisation of the Beath Collection.

The event schedule is as follows:
Dr. Mary Louise O’Donnell – “The Bengal Subscription and the Irish-Indian Connection”
Frank Bunting – “Edward Bunting’s Kilmore Parish Connections”

Philip McDonagh – “Do you remember Sinclair Stevenson? Reflections on the Irish missionary tradition in India”
Lily Neill – “The Emergence of the Lever Harp”

Simon Chadwick – “The Old Irish Harp”
Nicholas Carolan – “Some Irish Traditional Music Finds in the Beath Collection”

The Linen Hall Library is open free to the public Monday – Friday 9.30am- 5.30pm. For more information please visit our website at
Additional information on colloquium panel:

Frank Bunting – has researched and published two extensive articles in Dúiche Néill exploring his distant relative Edward Bunting’s familial roots 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 – In an extension of his research of historic Irish harps and Bunting’s manuscripts, Simon will perform a selection of tunes from the old Irish harp tradition on a reconstruction of an 18th century Irish harp.

Philip McDonagh – is 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 – will perform a programme 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 – is an author and Fulbright Scholar (2019/20), 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.

Permalink - Posted: September 11, 2019 at 12:07 pm