In an unpublished History of Ireland, written about the year 1636, now remaining in manuscript in the Library of the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin, we are told that, The Irish are much addicted to musick generally, and you shall find but very few of their gentry, either man or woman, but can play on the harp; also you shall not find a house of any account, without one or two of those instruments, and they always keep a harper to play for them at their meals, and all other times, as often as they have a desire to recreate themselves, or others which come to their houses, therewith.
During the troubles after 1641, when a war of destruction was waged against every thing Irish, Lynch, in his Cambrensis Eversus, informs us that the harp was broken by soldiers, wherever it could be found, and adds. The memory of its form and materials will be unknown and lost to our immediate posterity. The war of 1688, which completed the downfal of the ancient Irish families, also silenced their national instrument. A solitary harp might occasionally be heard emitting mournful sounds over the fallen fortunes of the country, but it was no longer in general use.Hardiman's Irish Minstrelsy, i. 183.
In a whimsical account of the adventure of two Cavaliers, who were in the train of the Marquis of Ormond, and made an excursion into the County of Waterford to visit the High Sheriff at Coolfin, (printed in a rare volume entitled Songs
p.133and Poems of Love and Drollery by T. W. 1654, one of them is represented as mistaking the hall of their host's dwelling for a stable, until he discovers a harp in the corner.
- Ned, he alights and leads (God bless us all)
His horse into his Worship's very hall;
And looking round about, cries in great anger,
'Zowns, here's a stable, has no rack nor manger.'
'Peace Ned,' (quoth I) 'prithe be not so hasty,
This room's no stable though it be as nasty;
I see a harp and chimney too, and dare
Say there was fire in't before the war;
So this is no place for a horse you see.'
''Tis then for very beasts, I'm sure,' (quoth he).
I am inclined to think that the loss of the Irish harp, as a musical instrument, is not much to be regretted; it was strung with wire, and its tone appears to have been truly described in the Irish Hudibras.
- The Irish harp whose rusty mettle,
Sounds like the patching of a kettle.
At the period of our traveller's visit there were few houses in Ireland without a harp, although probably not a dozen specimens of the instrument could now be found. The harp called Brian Boro's, which was deposited by Mr. Conyngham in 1782, in the Museum of Trinity College, Dublin, is well known.In Mr. Bunting's Collection of Irish Melodies, a print may be found of a harp made in 1621, which belonged to a branch of the Fitzgerald family, and is or was recently in the possession of Mr. Noah Dalway of Bellahill near Carrickfergus. The Dublin Penny Journal (iv. 256) contains a representation of a harp of James II.'s time, preserved by Mr. Lenigan of
p.134Castle Fogarty in the County of Tipperary. And in Walker's History of the Irish Bards there is an engraving of an Irish harp, made in 1726, by John Kelly, which was in the possession of Mr. Jonathan Hehir of Limerick. Add to these four harps, that of my maternal great-grandfather (the Rev. Charles Bunworth) made, I think, in 1737, which still remains a venerated family relic, and the list of all the existing specimens of the Irish harps which occur at this moment to my memory is completed.C.