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The Rev. Best’s harp

Best harp

May have been made in the late 18th or early 19th Century

Owned by the National Museum of Ireland, Dublin. Museum reference number NMI DF:1946-93. Usually kept in storage, not on public display.

non-standard design;
35 strings, longest just under 1m

This harp was first drawn to my attention by Michael Billinge, who listed it on his web pages. A photo of the harp in the store at the National Museum of Ireland was shown to me a year or two ago by a friend, but it was not until I was reading the catalogues and accession registers of the National Museum that I made the connection between this harp and the Rev. Best.

The harp is very odd; the neck is slender with a very large looping arm that curves over and joins the harmonic curve. The forepillar is straight and looks like amodern machine-made replacement, like a broom handle almost. The soundbox is assembled from planks, and is straight and parallel in cross-section. There is an inscription on the back of the soundboard that has been read as “I W I”

The thing that makes me take this poor ungainly thing seriously is that it has the remains of metal wire strings on most of the tuning pins and it has the remains of string windings and toggles inside many of the soundbox string holes. These look like the genuine remains of wire strings from its use by an old harper.

The provenance of this harp as given by the accession registers and also by the newspaper article cited by Michael Billinge, is that it was given to the R.I.A in 1882. It was recorded in Wakeman's 1894 catalogue of the Royal Irish Academy as no.369, and was transferred to the Arts and Industrial division of the National Museum of Ireland on 19th July 1958 under the registration number 93-1946.

Wakeman’s catalogue gives its provenance: “Said to have been used some generations ago by an old Irish harper, an heir-loom in his family bequeathed by him to the Rev. Mr. Best, of Sligo, from whose descendants it was obtained by the Rev. Berkley Baxter.”

Simon Chadwick