The Trinity College harp

Trinity College harp badge
(reprint from 1786 Collecteana)
Trinity College harp badge
1808 Rees
Trinity College harp badge
Trinity College harp badge
Trinity College harp badge
Robert French photo (detail)
Trinity College harp badge
Crosby Brown catalogue

The Trinity College harp used to have a silver-plated bronze badge nailed to the front of the forepillar. The badge shows a heraldic design, with the Red Hand, and two animals, possibly lions. It has been suggested that it is an O’Neill badge. The badge is clearly shown and described in late 18th and early 19th century illustrations and descriptions of the harp1.

The badge disappeared from the harp some time in the mid 19th century. In the 1870s, it was sold to the antiquarian Robert Day in Dublin, along with a mailshirt said to have been found by a workman during construction of the railway line in Phoenix Park, Dublin. Day did not realise what the badge was; he assumed it was part of the mailshirt, and he published an illustration and description2. In 1881, Day loaned the badge and mailshirt together for an exhibition of antique armour, and the illustration was re-printed in the catalogue2.

The librarian of Trinity College, Dublin, Mr. T.H. Longfield, saw Day’s illustration, and recognised it as the lost badge from the Trinity College harp forepillar. Day published a second article4 (again reprinting the same illustration) in 1890. He explains that his son took the badge in to Trinity College library, and held it up to the harp to show it fitted exactly. Day says in his article that he presented the badge to Trinity College, so that it could be restored “to its original position, where I trust it may long be preserved”.

However I suspect that the badge was not actually re-affixed to the harp, since none of the early 20th century photographs of the harp5 show the badge attached. A photo by Robert French shows what looks like a photo of the badge attached to the display case, with a handwritten note mentioning Day6. The badge is mentioned in passing in a 1902 history of the College7.

Longfield arranged for Trinity College to donate a cast of the Trinity College harp to the Met Museum in New York, and their 1902 catalogue8 shows a photo of the cast of the harp, without badge, and also a seperate photo of the badge.

I have not seen any record of the badge after this date, and I do not know where it is now.

Thanks to Keith Sanger for originally drawing my attention to this badge.


1. Charles Vallancey, Collecteana Rebus Hibernicis, Dublin, 1786, p.33-44; also Joseph C. Walker, Historical Memoirs of the Irish bards. Dublin, 1786, p.60; also William Campden, Britannia, or a Chronographical description. Payne, London, 1789. Vol IIIb Pl. XLI p.477; also Abraham Rees (ed), Rees's Cyclopaedia, or The New Cyclopaedia, or, Universal Dictionary of the Arts and Sciences Longman Hirst Rees & Orme, London, 1808. Plate X. Thanks to Michael Billinge for showing me this illustration many years ago; also Kenelm Digby, The Naturalists Companion containing drawings with suitable descriptions..., State Library, New South Wales, ms PXE 869, p.164. Thanks to Karen Loomis for pointing this manuscript out to me; also Edward Bunting, The Ancient Music of Ireland, Hodges & Smith, Dublin, 1840, fp.37, 40, 42 ^

2. Robert Day, ‘On a hauberk of chain mail, and a silvered badge found in the Phœnix Park, Dublin’, Journal of the Royal Historical and Archaeological Association of Ireland, Vol IV (Fourth Series), 1876-8, Dublin 1879, p.494-8. ^

3. Charles Alexander de Cosson & William Burges, ‘Catalogue of the exhibition of ancient helmets and examples of mail’, The Archaeological Journal 37.148, 1881, p.455 ^

4. Robert Day, ‘On a hauberk of chain mail, and a silvered badge found in the Phœnix Park, Dublin’, Journal of the Royal Historical and Archaeological Association of Ireland, XXI, 1890-1, p.282 ^

5. e.g. Photograph by Benjamin Stone, 1899. Birmingham City Library, Benjamin Stone Collection Box 302 Print 38; also Robert Bruce Armstrong, The Irish and The Highland Harps, David Douglas, Edinburgh, 1904 ^

6. Photograph by Robert French, c.1865-1914, Lawrence Photograph Collection, NLI L_ROY_04794. online at Wikimedia Commons. Is it possible that this is the actual badge mounted on a card?^

7. W. Macneile Dixon, Trinity College Dublin (London 1902, p. 232)^

8. The Metropolitan Museum of Art hand-book no.13: Catalogue of the Crosby Brown collection of musical instruments of all nations, 1: Europe. New York, 1902, p.23 ^

Simon Chadwick