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Might there be an old archive recording somewhere, of an old Gaelic harp player from before the tradition died out?

The old Gaelic harp traditions were at their height in late medieval times, and declined fast through the 17th century1. In Scotland, the last native harpers died in the mid 18th century2. In Ireland, the tradition continued longer, with 10 harpers responding to the call for performers at the meeting in Belfast in 17923. As a result of the success of that meeting, harp schools were set up by Irish Harp Societies in Dublin, Belfast and Dundalk, employing as tutors firstly the last of the old native harpers, and after they died, earlier students of the schools became tutors.

The distinctive features of the old Gaelic harp tradition are the use of a harp with brass (or other metal) wire strings, tuned diatonically with a unison in the middle of the run, and played with the left hand in the treble and the right hand in the bass. The Irish Harp Society schools continued this tradition of early Irish harp playing through the 19th century. The last of the Society school students were old men by the end of the 19th century.

This chart compares the end of the old harp tradition with the beginnings of mechanical sound recording.

1877

Phonograph invented by Thomas Edison4

1878

Edison phonograph exhibited in England5

1879

Mr. Smith (plus two others?) appear at the Irish Harp Revival Festival, the Rotunda, Dublin6.

1880

1881

1882

Patrick Murney still alive7

1883

1884

1885

1886

Wax cylinders patented by Alexander Graham Bell8

1887

Gramophone patented by Emile Berliner9.

1888

Samuel Patrick dies10.

A press conference introduces the phonograph to London. Handel chorus recorded at the Crystal Palace11.

1889

Theo Wangemann tours Europe, recording Bismark & von Moltke12.

1890

1891

1892

Berliner commercial production of records and machines13.

1893

Edison machines available for sale to the public at World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago, USA14.

1894

1895

1896

1897

First Feis Cheoil in Dublin
Section 21, Competitions of Archaeological Interest
“Irish Wire Strung Harp. 1st prize 5 (+ gold medal presented by W.J. Simpson, Belfast)...”
Unfortunately there were no entries15.

The Feis organisers in Dublin use an Edison phonograph machine to record the pipers playing “previously unpublished airs”16.

1898

There is “a blind girl in the South of Ireland who plays on the old wire-stringed Irish harp”17.

1899

1900

Irish harper seen busking in Old Kent Road, London18

1901

Patsy Touhey starts selling recordings of his Irish pipe playing in America19

1902

1903

1904

1905

Richard Henebry records traditional singers in Ring, Co. Waterford20.

I don’t know of any earlier use of a phonograph to record Irish music than 1897 but I am still looking!


References

1. See my 17th century history page. ^

2. Keith Sanger, 2012, ‘Final Chords’, online at wirestrungharp.com. ^

3. See my 18th century history page. ^

4. ^

5. http://www.phonozoic.net/presentations.html ^

6. Keith Sanger, 2012, ‘Final Chords’, online at wirestrungharp.com. ^

7. James O’Laverty, ‘The Irish harp’, Denvir’s Monthly, 1903 ^

8. ^

9. ^

10. ‘The Irish Harp: A Case of Distress’,Belfast News-Letter Friday March 23 1888^

11. ^

12. http://www.phonozoic.net/presentations.html ^

13. ^

14. Jimy O’Brein Moran, ‘Capturing Diversity whilst creating canon’,in Thérèse Smith (ed), Ancestral Imprints, Cork University Press 2012, p.1-20 ^

15. ‘Is the Irish Harp Extinct?’ Freeman’s Journal and National Press, Dublin, Monday 24th May 1897^

16. ^

17. ‘Is the Irish Harp Extinct?’ Freeman’s Journal and National Press, Dublin, Thursday 5th May 1898^

18. Henry George Farmer, ‘Some Notes on the Irish Harp’, Music & Letters vol XXIV, April 1943 ^

19. Jimy O’Brein Moran, ‘Capturing Diversity whilst creating canon’,in Thérèse Smith (ed), Ancestral Imprints, Cork University Press 2012, p.1-20 ^

20. Susanne Ziegler, ‘From Waterford to Berlin and back to Ireland’,in Thérèse Smith (ed), Ancestral Imprints, Cork University Press 2012, p.1-20 ^