The Bunworth harp

Bunworth harp

The Bunworth harp inscription says that it was made by John Kelly in 1734. I do not know if the placename Baltydaniel on the inscription refers to Kelly, or to Bunworth.

The harp was originally owned and played, as its inscription states, by the Rev. Charles Bunworth (1704/5 - 1772), who was a minister of the Church of Ireland at Buttevant, Co. Cork. Bunworth was a noted patron of harpers and of poets, hosting regular meetings of poetry and music at his home.

Bunworth amassed a collection of 15 early Irish harps, bequeathed to him by their respective owners, but they were all destroyed after his death, except for this, his personal instrument.

After Bunworth’s death, his harp passed to his grand-daughter, Miss Dillon of Blackrock near Cork, who is said to have been an excellent musician, though I don’t know if she played the harp. After her death, the harp passed to her nephew, Thomas Crofton Croker (1798 - 1854), the Irish antiquary. He also wrote down and published many family anecdotes about Charles Bunworth including the story about the burning of the 15 harps, and about the banshee which appeared at Bunworth’s death.

In 1854 the harp was purchased, at the auction of Croker‘s effects, by Thomas Bateman, of Lomberdale, Derbyshire, England. He died in 1893, and at some point after that the harp was acquired by Francis Galpin (1858 - 1945), the musicologist and instrument collector. Galpin had it strung with gut strings, and used it as an exhibit and to illustrate some of his books on the history of musical instruments.

Galpin's collection was sold in 1916 and was purchased by the William Lindsey family of Boston, USA, who gave the entire collection (including the Bunworth harp) to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in 1917, and the harp has been there ever since.

Further reading:
Diarmaid Ó Catháin, ‘Revd Charles Bunworth of Buttevant, Patron of Harpers and Poets’ Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society 102, 1997. Available from the Emporium.


Simon Chadwick