The Otway harp

We do not know when the harp was made.

The inscription on the harp, bears the date 1707 and the name of the harpmaker Cormac O’Kelly, and some scholars have argued that the harp was made by him in that year. Edward Bunting, who may have had access to traditional information about the Otway harp, tells us in the early 19th century that it was made by Cormac O’Kelly, “about the year 1700”

Joan Rimmer says in her book that the Otway harp dates from the 17th century, and R.B. Armstrong puts it in the first half of the 17th century. Neither says what reason they have; presumably it is on the grounds of the harp’s low-headed form and its decorative style.

It looks as if the harp is a composite object; there is evidence of changes to the shape of the harp in the damage to the joints. Perhaps some parts of it date from the 17th century and some from the 18th. Did Cormac O’Kelly take parts of a fine antique instrument, and rebuild them into a working harp? Did he make a new soundbox for a much older neck and pillar? Or, was this work done later in the 18th century, for Quin - perhaps the broken parts of a harp made by O’Kelly in 1707, were reassembled in the mid-18th century?


Simon Chadwick