Denis O'Hampsey - his harp

Denis O'Hampsey

Downhill harp The Downhill harp at Guinness

When Denis O'Hampsey was 18, which would be 1713 if we accept his claimed year of birth, he went to live with his firat patron, Counsellor Canning, in Garvagh, Co. Derry. Canning joined with two other gentlemen, Gage and Bacon, and together they purchased a harp for O'Hampsey.

Downhill harpThe instrument they purchased was secondhand, having been built in 1702 by Cormac O'Kelly, of Ballinascreen (Draperstown). It bears the name 'C O Devlin' elegantly carved on it which may have been its original owner.

After O'Hampsey's death the instrument was taken to the house of his last patron, the Rev. Hervey Bruce, at Downhill House. From being preserved there it acquired its current name 'The Downhill Harp'.

Luckily it was not at Downhill when the house was burned down. It passed through various hands until it came up for auction in the mid 20th century and was purchased by the Guinness company. It is now on display in their 'Storehouse' museum in Dublin.

The harp has never been scientifically studied or measured so we know very little about it, not even what wood it is made from. It has 30 tuning pins and 32 string shoes, which allow 30 brass wire strings to be mounted with some latitude for adjustment. It was tuned to a diatonic scale with a gap in the bass and a doubled note in the tenor - called respectively tead leagaidh and comhluighe.

For more info please see the entry for the Downhill harp in my list of extant old harps.

Student Downhill The Downhill harp was selected by the Historical Harp Society of Ireland as the third to be copied in their range of student early Irish harps. HHSI Student Downhill harps are available for sale: click here for more info.

decorated DownhillAlso, the HHSI currently has available for sale a carved replica of the Downhill harp made by David Kortier. This one-off replica reproduces the carved details and main inscription of the original, and is made from only three pieces of soft American maple wood. click here for more info.