Rose Mooney’s harp

This harp is preserved in the National Museum of Ireland, and is kept in storage. According to the NMI website, “The harp was transferred from the Royal Irish Academy to the National Museum’s Irish Antiquities division in 1945, then onto the Art and Industry division in 1958”. It was already in the RIA museum in Dublin before 1862, when Eugene O’Curry quoted the antiquarian Petrie in a lecture (Eugene O’Curry’s Manners and Customs vol. 3, London, 1873, p.297).

Ann Heymann pointed out how the damage to the harp matches the description of Rose Mooney’s harp, and it is now considered most likely that this instrument was owned and played by Rose Mooney (1740 - c.1798). For this reason, I am following Ann in calling it “Rose Mooney’s harp”

The harp is often claimed to have been the harp of Carolan, but I am suspicious about this attribution.

Joan Rimmer, in her book The Irish Harp (Mercier Press 1969) printed a museum photo of this harp with the caption “Carolan harp” (p.62), and she describes this harp in the index of extant harps (p. 75): “Carolan harp. Large high-headed harp, said to have belonged to Carolan.” But she gives no sources or references for these attributions.

Rose Mooney’s harp

Robert Bruce Armstrong, in The Irish and The Highland Harps, Edinburgh 1904, p.83-4 illustrates the harp with a line drawing (reproduced right) which confirms it is the harp in question. Armstrong says it is “the property of the Royal Irish Academy”, and that it is “in the Dublin museum”. Armstrong gives a physical description and measurements, but says nothing about the provenance of this harp, and does not mention any claim that it might have belonged to Carolan. He does speculate in a footnote about the joint between the neck and soundbox: “An attempt to represent this unusual form may have been made by the artist who copied the painting of Carolan playing upon his harp...”.

Petrie, writing in Eugene O’Curry’ Manners and Customs (vol. 3, London, 1873, p.297, a lecture delivered in 1862), mentions this harp being in the Museum of the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin. Petrie says, “The Academy also possesses another harp ... the name it bears - ‘Carolan’s’- ... it was sold to the Academy as such by a person who represented himself as the lineal descendent of the great minstrel...”.

Petrie did not believe this attribution, and he adds: ”We have trustworthy evidence that Carolan’s harp was burned by the servants of Mac Dermot Roe at Alderford...”

Armstrong gives more information about the harp or harps that Carolan did use in his lifetime, under the heading of harps “known to have been destroyed”. He writes (1904, p.115) that there are two different traditions about the fate of Carolan’s harp. According to Walker it was taken to London by Carolan’s son, but Armstrong doesn’t believe this. He cites Petrie (above), about Carolan’s harp having been at Alderford, and being burned by the servants. But he adds to this by reporting information from the late Madam De Mamiel, that when she was young, and visited Alderford, “she had been shown the charred remains of a harp which was said to have belonged to Carolan”. Armstrong says in a footnote (1904 p.115) “Carolan’s silver punch bowl, upon which his name was engraved, was also preserved at Alderford. It disappeared suddenly many years since, and although every enquiry was made it could not be traced ... Carolan’s chair, which is in good preservation, is the only relic of the minstrel now at Alderford. The writer has to thank the present MacDermot Roe for these particulars”.

O'Curry 1873 front matter
O’Curry 1873 title page (click to enlarge)

O'Curry 1873 p.278-9
O’Curry 1873 p.278-9 (click to enlarge)

O'Curry 1873 front matter
O’Curry 1873 p.296-7 (click to enlarge)

Armstrong 1904 front matter
Armstrong 1904 title page (click to enlarge)

Armstrong 1904 p.82-3
Armstrong 1904 p.82-3 (click to enlarge)

Armstrong 1904 p.84-5
Armstrong 1904 p.84-5 (click to enlarge)

Armstrong 1904 p.115
Armstrong 1904 p.115 (click to enlarge)

Photos of an original 1904 copy of Armstrong’s book courtesy Karen Loomis

Simon Chadwick