logo

Arthur Ó Néill (c.1737 - 1816)

Arthur Ó Néill

There is a lot of information out there about Arthur Ó Néill, but it is scattered and can be hard to track down.


The main source of infomation is of course the Memoirs. This was composed by Arthur O'Neill, and dictated by him to Tom Hughes, a secretary employed by Edward Bunting. Two vesions of the Memoirs survive in Bunting’s manuscript papers (Queens University Belfast MS4/46 & 14), representing different revisions as Arthur Ó Néill refined and adjusted his material.

Edward Bunting used many of the anecdotes in his 1840 book, The Ancient Music of Ireland, but the Memoirs was not published in full until 1911. In this year, Charlotte Milligan Fox included a complete edited text of the Memoirs as part of her book Annals of the Irish Harpers. I have reprinted the Memoirs extracted from the Annals.

A somewhat different edited version of the Memoirs, drawing on different manuscript readings, was published in 1958 by Donal O’Sullivan, as part of his two-volume Carolan: the life times and music of an Irish harper.

In the 2014 Ardrigh Books reprint of Annals, Sara C. Lanier and Roland Spottiswoode include an interesting and informative account of the Memoirs and how it came to be written and published.


Other interesting background reading on Arthur Ó Néill includes:

Réamonn Ó Muirí ‘A 1798 Court Martial With Reference to Arthur O’Neill, Harper’ Seanchas Ard Mhacha Vol 12, No. 2, 1987
The full text, with commentary, of a court case brought by Arthur Ó Néill’s brother against the captain of a group of soldiers who burnt the brother’s house and killed his wife. Arthur’s harp and son were in the house and are mentioned in the testimonies.

Aiken McClelland ‘The Irish Harp Society’ Ulster Folklife, Vol 21, 1975
A detailed look at the Irish Harp Society of Belfast, and the people involved with it between 1808 and 1840. Contains some interesting quotes from accounts, correspondence and minute-books.

F J Biggar, ‘Arthur O’Neill, the Irish harper’, Ulster Journal of Archaeology vol. VII no. 1, January 1901. Also note on p.159.

F J Biggar, ‘Notes & Queries: Arthur O’Neill, the Irish harper’, Ulster Journal of Archaeology vol. VIII, 1902

F J Biggar, ‘Arthur O’Neill, the blind harper’, Ulster Journal of Archaeology vol. XII no. 3, July 1906, p.99