Dublin Harp Society (July 1809-Dec. 1812)

[Source: Extract from Frank Callery, A History of Blindness in Irish Society (forthcoming in 2015) - supplied to Ricorso by the author - 16.03.2015. Note: The linked footnote references are missing.]

The Dublin Harp Society
During the period of the first Belfast Irish Harp Society, John Bernard Trotter (1775- 1818) commenced a similar one in Dublin. Trotter was born in Downpatrick, the second son of the Rev. Edward Trotter and brother of Southwell (Sowthwel) Ruthven M.P. (1773-1836), who inherited the paternal estates and was a member of Parliament for Downpatrick and later a repeal member for Dublin. The third son Ruthven was a major in the army and was killed in action at Buenos Aires. [37] John Bernard was intended for the church and was educated in the grammar school at Downpatrick, under Mr. Wilde. In 1790 he was entered a ‘pensioner’ at Trinity College, Dublin under Dr. Stack and graduated in 1795. He took Deacon’s Orders but soon left the clerical profession to study for the bar. It was during his residency at the Temple, London, that he made the acquaintance of Charles James Fox, leader of the Whig party who commended Trotter’s pamphlet on The Union, and some verses which Trotter sent to him. This would ultimately lead to his appointment as Fox’s private secretary. In July 1802 Fox sent an invitation to Trotter (who was then in Wales) to accompany him to Paris where, along with ‘Fox, Lord St. John, and Mr. Adair, late Ambassador to Constantinople, he was sedulously employed in taking extracts from the state papers and from documents in the archives of the Bureau des Affaires Etrangères, towards Fox’s historical work’. [38] Within three months he voluntarily left Fox in Paris and returned to Ireland where he was called to the Irish Bar in the Michaelmas term of 1802. Due to ill health, which was to dog him for the remainder of his brief life, he retired to Glasnevin where he was renowned for his kindness to the poor of that village. In 1805 he was active in Downpatrick; his brother being elected M.P. in the following year. With the return to power of the Whig party, the Duke of Bedford (who with the Duchess would become subscribers to the Irish Harp Society) was appointed viceroy for Ireland and Trotter prepared for his approach by establishing a newspaper called The Herald, which again brought him notice. Fox again sent for Trotter, appointing him to a high position in the Foreign Office and later, as his private secretary. He was to become a close confidant and inseparable companion in private and in public life - Fox was to die in Trotter’s arms. Trotter would later publish a memoir, Memoirs of the Latter Years of the Right Honourable Charles James Fox, which he wrote in Wicklow in 1811. [39]

Following the death of Fox, Trotter, like Jonathan Swift a century earlier, fell out of favour and would live the remainder of his life venting his spleen and lamenting the miserable offers of menial positions. He returned to Dublin and took a house (Richmond) at Phillipburgh, where he commenced an Historical Register (a periodical published by Lewis in Anglesea Street). This did not succeed and he left to reside at Lark Hill, Co. Down. In 1808 he was again in Dublin and published pamphlets in support of the Roman Catholic prelates, which brought him popularity. He then conceived the idea of founding the Dublin or Irish Harp Society by which he sought to ‘enlarge a provincial society (The Belfast Harp Society) into one which would embrace the whole kingdom.For this purpose he searched out one of the last of the (blind) Irish harpers … and taking the bard with his harp into a coach and four horses, he proceeded with his venerable companion to the metropolis. Here he published his proposals for forming a society, and roused public interest to an intense degree, upon a novel and romantic subject’. [40]

This society was inaugurated on July 13th 1809 with an influential list of subscribers, including Thomas Moore and Sir Walter Scott. Trotter gave £200 a year to the Dublin Harp Society, and at his residence, Richmond, (just below where St. Joseph’s Asylum for Male Blind was to locate, 73 years later in 1882) ‘he entertained in great style. Quin, seated in a picturesque arbor, used to delight the numerous guests on festive occasions with the strains of his harp’. [41] This was Patrick Quin, who had been one of the youngest blind harpers at the Belfast Harp Festival in 1792. Trotter brought him as instructor (he was a native of Portadown, County Armagh and had been a pupil of Patrick Lyndon of the Fews; he was 64 in 1809). He also played at the grand O’Carolan (Carolan) commemorations in 1809, which mostly featured distinguished contemporary musicians including Sir John Stevenson (who had arranged Thomas Moore Melodies). It was said that ‘modesty was not Quin’s most conspicuous virtue’. He was so elated at being selected to play at the Carolan commemoration that, on his return to his own county, he refused to play the fiddle as he had formerly done at public gatherings and which had been his chief source of income. [42]

Trotter was enthusiastic to copy and exceed the efforts of the Belfast Harp Society. He garnered influential persons as subscribers and by the first Carolan Commemoration in the Private Theatre, Fishamble Street, Dublin, on September 20th 1809, he had recruited 194 subscribers [43] who were ‘requested to meet General Vallancey, President, on Saturday, the 22nd of July 1809 at two o’clock, at the Dublin Society’s House, on or before which day the subscribers are requested to pay their subscriptions to the secretary, John Bernard Trotter’. General Vallancey, President, took the chair for this meeting and having ‘transacted various business, relative to the institution, they adjourned until Saturday, the 29th instant, at two o’clock, at the Little Theatre, Capel Street’, where Patrick Quin attended with his harp. By the end of the month the Freeman’s Journal could report: ‘The harp society in Belfast is very prosperous, and that lately established in this city (Dublin) proceeds most promisingly. For this establishment we believe Ireland is chiefly indebted to Mr. John B. Trotter, Esq., and we trust his patriotic exertions will meet their best rewards - the complete success of the society. The following is a letter written by him to the gentleman who has permitted us to insert it:

‘Dear Sir,
I send you some of the circular letters of the Irish Harp Society, and hope that your exertions will be used for the revival of the old favorite instrument of Ireland. The national music, you are aware, can alone be well given on the harp; and you will, I am sure, approve of the Harp Society blending in its views, restoration of the harp, doing justice to Irish Music, aiding the unfortunate and holding out a helping hand to genius, either quite latent or pining in obscurity and want. Our fund has now risen to upwards of £150 annual subscription; but that is far inadequate to our wants, we must therefore rely on the gentlemen of Ireland for support, convinced as we are, that they, in common with us, feel a sort of sacredness about the venerable Irish harp, which will lead them to save it from utter oblivion and decay, and transmit to their posterity, that which was, perhaps, the earliest and most interesting musical instrument in the world. I shall be anxious for your return, when, I expect, you will be pleased with our proceedings. We have, as you know, one promising blind pupil; but as our funds rise, we shall speedily increase the number of our pupils - I hope soon to denominate them, young Irish harpers; Believe me my dear Sir, with great respect, ever very sincerely yours, &c’. [44]

Busy drumming up interest in the Harp Society, Trotter engaged the support of his neighbour the Lord Bishop of Kildare who offered one of his houses in Glasnevin, rent free, as his subscription to the society, as an asylum and school for the blind harper and his pupils. The Bishop of Kildare was Charles Dalrymple Lindsay, D.D. (1760-1846). He was the sixth son of James Lindsay, 5th Earl of Balcarra(e)s and Anne Dalrymple (ironically his older brother, William, had been lost while getting into a boat from the Priam East Indiaman in 1785 while on passage to India - an echo of the Belfast Harp Society’s unfortunate piper). Dr. Lindsay, as Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, and afterwards last Titular Bishop of Kildare, prior to the amalgamation of the Diocese of Kildare and Dublin in 1804, had acquired the old monastic lands at Glasnevin which had formerly belonged to the Priory of St. Mary’s Abbey. Part of these would later pass from the Bishop’s third son (by his second marriage to Catherine Eliza Coussmaker) Captain George Heyward Lindsay, to the Committee of Prospect Cemetery, where, incidentally, Trotter’s brother Edward Southwell Ruthven M.P., would be buried when his remains were taken from Westminster in April 1836. His was the first ‘Protestant’ public funeral to wend its way to this burial ground. Another of the Lindsay properties in this area was acquired in 1816 by Charles Orpen (1791-1856) who founded there the Claremont Institution for Deaf and Dumb. [45]

Having acquired the house at Glasnevin, Trotter vigorously cultivated the friends of the society, and used Quin to advantage both at his own place, Richmond, and at other houses in and around Dublin. ‘At the beautiful seat of Corballis, near Swords, that of the accomplished and charming Mrs. Liddiard … the venerable Irish harper Quin added to the interest of the scene; after a merry dance was kept up with much spirit until four o’clock, a numerous assemblage of ladies and gentlemen of the Irish Harp Society, the interests of which have been patriotically and warmly supported by Mr. and Mrs. Liddiard, were present. The day was fine and how happy did this charming and plaintive instrument again resound in the halls of our gentry. The auspicious commencement of the Harp Society must please all patriots and lovers of music; the example of Sir Henry Wilkinson and his charming daughter (Mrs. L. S. Anna Liddiard) is a brilliant one, and must produce the most pleasing effects. Among a numerous company we observed Mrs. Talbot of Malahide, Mrs. Crookshank, Mr. and the Misses Trotter, Sir Edward and Lady Ryan, Captain Green, Mr. Mapothin (Maypother), Mr. Montgomery, the Misses Smith, Mr. Swift, Mr. Shaw, Mr. Arthur and many other fashionable and respectable gentlemen and ladies’. [46] The ‘beautiful seat’ near Swords was Corballis House (which stood in the grounds of Dublin Airport, in the possession of the Dublin Airport Authority and which has was recently scandalously demolished). It was the home of Sir Henry Wilkinson (Supra), Recorder of Kilkenny. His grandfather, Sir Thomas Wilkinson, Lord Mayor of Dublin, 1719-1720, is said to have invited Turlough O Carolan to play at Corballis House and it was here that O Carolan is said to have given his last public performance. A planxty by O Carolan entitled Planxty Wilkinson (O’Sullivan No. 168) has not been properly assigned, to date; it is more than likely that O Carolan dedicated this to Sir Thomas Wilkinson. [47]

By August 2nd 1809 Trotter could place an ad in the newspaper stating that ‘This institution, finding its funds sufficient for the purpose, is ready to receive pupils, whose musical talents may be approved. Applications to be made, by letter, addressed to the Secretary of the Irish Harp Society, at Mr. Watson’s or at Mr. Fitzpatrick’s, Booksellers, Capel Street’. Through August and September of 1809 many people flocked to subscribe to the Society. Quin was used to good effect at its many meetings and the feeling abroad was that ‘The genius of Ireland seemed to look forth, and, starting from a fatal languor, to beckon to hope, and point to the venerable instrument which had withstood the neglect of centuries, and now was reviving through the cares of a patriot band’. [48] The society produced a ‘book’ which excited much interest ‘from its simplicity and elegance. A design, representing the Muse mourning over the harp, formed the frontispiece; the following lines were seen underwritten: -

‘The sorrowing Muse long wept the Harp unstrung,
Her languid form upon the sacred relic hung’.

‘On another page, forming a sort of second frontispiece, the Genius of Ireland, was, very happily, portrayed, descending from the clouds, and holding a wreath over the head of the muse, at which moment she is observed to look up, and strike the strings of the long –slumbering harp. Underneath was written:

‘Sudden - the genius of the land appears;
She bids the harp no more be wet with tears;
The Pledge of Hope, a verdant Crown she gives,
And Erin’s harp with waking tones revives’. [49]

Trotter and his committee began preparations for the first Commemoration of Carolan, ‘to be held in this city very shortly, in aid of the funds of the Irish Harp Society. It cannot be doubted that, on this occasion, the nobility, gentry, and citizens of Dublin and its vicinity, will come forward to celebrate their favourite Composer and Bard’s memory, and that, as the Commemorations of Handel had been religiously attended and supported, so a similar act of reverence to the fame and merits of an Irish genius will vindicate the nation from the stigma of neglecting worth at home and paying homage only to what is foreign’. [50] In this they were harking back to the famous performance of Handel’s Messiah in Fishamble Street, the ‘flagship’ of charity performances, which they hoped to emulate. The commemoration was to be held at the Private Theatre, Fishamble Street on Wednesday, September 6th but was unavoidably postponed until the 13th when it was announced that ‘On this occasion will be performed a concert in which the following ladies and gentlemen will take a part: Mrs. Cooke, The Miss Cheeses, Mrs. Williams, Sir J. Stevenson, Mr. Spray, Mr. Elliot, Mr. Logier, Mr. Weyman, Mr. Willman &c. And the Irish harper Patrick Quin, will play a number of old national airs on the Irish harp. The performance to begin at 9 o’clock exactly - ladies are requested to come dressed, and gentlemen without boots. Mr. Moore, (Thomas) has also liberally offered to the Irish Harp Society the favourite air of The Fairy Queen, arranged by Sir John Stevenson, with new words by Mr. Moore, never yet published, for the advantage of the National Commemoration of Carolan, and the Irish public are requested to patronize the first attempt to celebrate the memory of an Irish bard, as well as to aid the funds of an institution which is about to revive the national music of Ireland, and combine charity, taste and patriotism. Tickets to be had at the principal Music shops, and of Gilbert and Hodges, Dame Street, Watson and Fitzpatrick, Capel Street, and at the theatre, Fishamble Steet where places may be taken’. [51]

Further delay ensued and on Tuesday, September 12th 1809 the Freeman’s Journal carried a piece in its ‘Arts’ column which stated that ‘two harps made by an artist in Belfast (see Supra, Belfast Harp Society) have been lately exhibited. The Public will have an opportunity at the theatre, in Fishamble Street, on the 20th inst. of judging of their superior excellency, as, if we are not misinformed, it is in contemplation with the gentlemen who preside over this truly national and charitable institution to have a concert. Several distinguished amateurs will take a part. Six blind children performing on a difficult instrument, under an aged and blind instructor, will be a most interesting exhibition. It will produce an harmony to affect the soul, not only through the ear, but the understanding’. [52] Here one must conclude that the Belfast Harp Society intended to bring O’Neill and his charges to Dublin to perform at the Carolan Commemoration. There is no evidence to support this, they are not mentioned in the ‘Syllabus’ produced by the Dublin Harp Society which gives a review of this first commemoration at Fishamble Street, which actually took place on September 20th and was repeated at the Rotunda on Wednesday 27th of September 1809. This second concert was given by ‘The gentlemen of the Irish Harp Society, who selected the place, as more accommodating to the public, who, it is superfluous to add, had lost nothing of their anxiety for the revived music of their country. Between those who on the first evening, could not obtain their admission, and those who sought the renewal of the pleasure, the room was filled with all the rank, beauty and taste of which our metropolis can now boast. The music went off with increased effect, but we cannot omit the repeated plaudits which followed Mr. Spray’s Aileen Aroon (Eibhlín a Rún) … the effects were heightened by the illuminated Crown and Inscription of the Society, very properly exhibited as the prevailing sentiment of Ireland’. [53]

The Harp Society had commenced. It spawned a plethora of activity and dedications for the next two years. Poems by J. S. Anna Liddiard, ‘printed for the Author, at the Hibernian Press Office, and to be had of all the Booksellers’ appeared in July 1810. Among these poems were included several addresses to the Harp Society, and their then president The Lord Bishop of Kildare. John and Daniel Egan at their Pedal Harp Factory at 30 Dawson Street, were engaged by the Society to examine the ‘ancient’ Irish harp and improve it so that it might be more accommodating to the newer repertoire of fashionable music. Egan undertook this work with relish and examined quite a number of ancient harps, the better to understand their construction and come up with his improved version. The Freeman’s Journal was kept abreast of developments and could say on October 14th 1809, ‘… Let it not be forgotten that the addition of pedals into the harp was the invention of an Irishman, what we have said of the formation of the Irish harp being the same now … as 1,000 years ago will fully appear by comparing the harp played by the ancient harper Quin, with that of Brian Boiromh’s (Bhrain Bóirmhe) harp in Trinity College. But it is with great pleasure that we can announce that our ingenious country man Mr. John Egan of this city a self-taught artist and the only harp maker in Ireland - fortunately his great ingenuity has not been like too many of his countrymen, “Born to blush unseen and waste its sweetness on the desert air”. Her Grace the Duchess of Richmond has lately honoured the country and the artist, by having caused him to construct a pedal harp for her Grace. It is with great pleasure we likewise add that this ingenious man has made and sent several harps to England. We understand that Mr. Egan has now finished an Irish harp, which for ingenuity of construction, elegance of form, and sweetness of tone, are highly creditable to his talents. This harp Mr. Egan intends as a patriotic present to the Charitable institution of the Irish Harp Society, on the sounding board of each side of the strings, in ancient characters, the following lines are inscribed, written we understand by Matthew Weld:

‘The harp once more at your command
With ancient song shall charm the land.
While each poor blind, poor orphan boy,
From your high bounty finds employ.
May Erin’s harp sweet peace prolong
And glad inspire the dance and song’. [54]

Patrick Quin became a must see, must hear, phenomenon. On October 16th 1809 Messrs. Gilbert and Hodges of 27 Dame Street, in their Number xvii of the Monthly Pantheon, for October, embellished their publication with ‘a striking full length likeness of the venerable Patrick Quin, harper to the Irish Harp Society, finely engraved by Brocas, from an exquisite painting by Miss Trotter, - This engraving has not, perhaps, ever been equalled in Ireland - it is followed by a very interesting notice of the Irish Harp Society (and to be had of all the booksellers price 2s. 2d.)’. [55]

A month later it was stated that ‘The house at Glasnevin is now preparing, we understand, for the reception of pupils. A large reception, or board room is painted in basso relievo by Miss G. H. Trotter, in a very elegant and superior manner. The revival, progress and improvement of the harp is happily expressed, and the designs prepared for this interesting work, and three of them are already executed on panels in the room. A report has been made on the regulations for the institution by a very enlightened committee and a code of regulations is also preparing by the secretary Mr. Trotter -whose illness has occasioned the delaying of a general meeting. There are now three blind pupils in the establishment, supported at the Society’s expense and a housekeeper of high respectability is engaged. It is supposed that in less than a fortnight when the necessary preparations of painting, furnishing &c. &c., can be made, that this most interesting institution will exhibit to the Irish public the singular phenomenon of a school for Irish music, to be taught on its proper instrument, the harp, and alone supported by the liberal and patriotic friends of Ireland’. [56]

On December 11th Trotter published another notice stating that ‘the house is now preparing for the immediate receptions of blind pupils.’ The regulations which he had proposed were referred to a committee who met at the Royal Exchange on January 19th 1810. This committee was composed of Sir Henry Wilkinson, John Bernard Trotter, Mr. Thomas Swift, the Rev. William Liddiard, Edmond. L. Swift, Thomas W. Hartstonge, the Rev. Robert Walsh, P. S. Sterne and S. Walker, assisted occasionally by the Lord Bishop of Kildare, Charles D. Lindsay - many of these were later to be members of The Iberno-Celtic Society (1818) which would carry out the literary intentions of the Harp Society, including Edward O’Reilly’s chronological account of Irish Writers in 1820.The committee directed its attention to the cultivation of music and poetry, a brief which diminished its focus and took it away from Trotter’s original proposal. Added to this was the redevelopment of the Irish harp which contributed its own distortion; but if you appoint a ‘committee of gentlemen’, you get what you possibly do not deserve. A general meeting of the society was held on January 30th to receive the final report of the ‘committee of legislation’ and to audit the accounts of the society and elect a new president to succeed General Vallancey. The regulations presented by the committee of legislation were adopted for the ‘future government of the society’, and were immediately printed, with the names of the 222 subscribers annexed. The accounts and correspondent documents, however, were referred to a select committee, who were to meet on February 2nd and ‘who shall publish their report on the accounts and expenditure of the society and the state of their funds’. The election of the president was postponed until March 17th ‘on which day the several officers shall be appointed and the members of the society dine together. Signed by Order, J. B. Trotter’. [57] At this meeting on January 30th 1810 the committee of legislation presented the 33 Rules, which it had formulated from Trotter’s original draft, for the future governance of the society. They were unanimously adopted. In its printed pamphlet the society could say by was of preamble to its rules that ‘The Society having been formed to revive the native music and poetry of Ireland, to improve the Irish harp and to excite a correspondent feeling through the country by instructing a number of blind and destitute children on the Irish harp, thus combining a patriotic object with a most interesting charity’. [58] The rules for the most part are predictably those which form the staple of rules and constitutions for similar bodies; those which reflect more immediately upon the instruction and education of the blind pupils and the running of the ‘asylum’ were, Rule:

17. That nothing of a religious or party nature shall in any manner influence the society as to its government, elections of officers or admission of members; that every person subscribing one guinea or upwards be a member of the society for the year ensuing the subscription and paying 20 guineas be a member for life, entitled to vote at a general meeting, eligible to any office in the society and have power to recommend a pupil to be instructed at the seminary of the society … .
18. That a seminary for the reception and instruction of pupils on the Irish harp shall be established at Glasnevin in the house provided by the Lord Bishop of Kildare.
19. That no distinction as to religion shall at any time exist or be made at any time respecting the pupils, but that blindness or other infirmity, musical talents and indigence shall be sufficient consideration to induce admission and entitlement to instruction and support. 20. That as it is necessary for the respectability of the institution and for the comfort of the children that they be decently apparelled, the pupils shall be clothed in a uniform of cheap cloth of Irish manufacture.
21. That the number of pupils shall be as the funds increase.
22. That there shall be a musical instructor and house-keeper provided.
23. That all proper access shall be given to the parents and friends of the pupils at reasonable times and hours and that the pupils shall be enjoined to attend their respective places of worship.
24. That each pupil shall remain upon the institution until the council decide that he has attained such proficiency as to be capable of instructing others and competent to earn a support for himself.
25. That the society shall supply such of their pupils as they are certified by the council, who are unable to do it themselves, with an improved Irish harp, as a means of future support and of diffusing the improvement through the country. And that a number of harps shall be made for that purpose, with such improvement as may be suggested, provided always that they be cheap and portable.
26. That annual prizes shall be offered to the harpers of Ireland at a stated period, the exhibition to be held at Glasnevin and that prizes for native or other poems or songs accompanied by the harp shall also be given.
27. That when the funds admit, ‘decayed’ Irish harpers shall receive small pensions.
28. That certain visitors shall be appointed who shall undertake to visit the house in Glasnevin, and such ladies as are subscribers, shall be elected patronesses for this purpose’. [59]

The reported activities of the Harp Society are irregular following this meeting. Some few notices of meetings appear but it was not until August 21st 1810 that the members met at Glasnevin to receive the accounts and the report of the state of the society’s funds from the treasurer. [60] The committees of the society had been elected and these comprised: Committee of Governance, President, the Rt. Rev. Lord Bishop of Kildare (Charles Dalrymple Lindsay), Vice Presidents: The Rt. Rev. Lord Bishop of Killala (Dr. James Verschoyle LLB. LLD.), Rt. Rev. Lord Sunderlin, Sir Henry Wilkinson (Corballis House), The Rt. Rev. William Liddiard (Corballis House); Treasurer: Right Hon. David La Touche and Co., Vice-treasurer, J. K. James Esq., (Frederick Street, North), Secretary: Rev. Robert Walsh (Summerhill). Committee of Finance: Rev. H. O’Neil, Thomas Connolly, Joseph Le Fanu (Cuffe Street), Mr. William Hartstonge (Molesworth Street), James Brush, Samuel Gale (Richmond) and John Borroughs. Committee of Literature: Rev. Paul O’Brien (Professor of Irish at Maynooth College, grand-nephew of Turlough Carolan and who wrote A Practical Grammer of the Irish Language in 1806, published by H. Fitzpatrick in Dublin in August 1809), Thomas Moore (of melodies fame, Island Bridge), P. Lynch, William Betham (Deputy Ulster King-at-Arms, North Cope Street), William Halliday (Arran Quay), Joseph Atkinson and J. P. Cody Esq. Committee of Music: Sir John A. Stevenson (Moore’s arranger, Nelson Place), Mr. J. Spray, George Ewing (of the Paving Board), George Grierson (Parliament Street), Mr. P. Logier (Music Saloon No. 76 Lower Sackville Street), Thomas Cook and Isaac Willis. The accounts had been circulated by the Secretary the Rev. Robert Walsh and this letter is extant among the Halliday Papers in the Royal Irish Academy, in fact this copy is the one sent to William Halliday Jnr., at his address at Arran Quay, Dublin:

‘The Irish Harp Society in transmitting to you the annexed reports on the state of the funds of the institution, trust that they have satisfactorily accounted for the appropriations of the funds already received. Much of the expense incurred was such only as is necessarily incidental to a new Establishment, and which will not occur again; while the money funds, on account of the Society, is a permanent advantage; - small indeed, in its amount, but auspicious in its object, - the origin of a future estate, and the pledge and earnest of the final establishment of the Institution. The code of laws herewith sent, has been drawn up by the committee of legislation, appointed for the purpose, and unanimously adopted at a general meeting, to regulate the future proceedings of the Society. Sundry members of rank, respectability and talents have been elected to fill the several offices recognized by these laws; - the noble asylum has been prepared and is now ready for the reception of its interesting pupils; and several blind and destitute Irish boys from different parts of the country, who have already evinced strong proofs of musical genius, stand on the list of recommendation for admission.

While everything is thus matured, and every precaution is taken to give regularity and permanency to the Establishment, we call upon you, with confidence, for your subscription; by which alone the objects of this interesting and useful charity can be carried into immediate effect. It appears, by the treasurer’s books, that a sum of £200 yet remains unpaid; which, with the presumed profits of the approaching concert, we trust will be amply sufficient to open our asylum. We have delayed calling on the subscribers for this balance, till time and experience have convinced us of the practicality of the plan we have adopted, and every previous arrangement was made - The Collector will call in a few days, with a receipt for the sum annexed to your name; and it is respectfully requested that you will be prompt in its discharge. - Signed by Order, Rob. Walsh, Sec’. [61]

It seems the Harp Society was now entering the realms of desperation. The loss of Vallencey as president (he was to die in 1812) certainly would have lost the society the interest of some subscribers, and the loss of Trotter, whose tragic and brief future was to be echoed by the Society, had a more devastating effect. If Trotter’s genius and enthusiasm gave utterance to the sound board of the Harp Society, his extravagance and embarrassed exit from Dublin society was really the nail that resounded most loudly in its coffin. We give hereunder the published accounts of the society and go on to speculate on the reasons for its growing inactivity and brief existence.

The Irish Harp Society’s Account with the Public
On August 29th 1810 the society stated that:

‘It is judiciously determined by the society, that the sum funded on account of the institution should remain untouched, as a nucleus, round which the future increase of the society should grow; and that they should draw upon the unpaid subscriptions and a ‘Concert’ to enable them to open their asylum at Glasnevin for the reception of pupils. The house has just been prepared and painted, and from its size and respectability, is worthy of the patriotic objects to which it is to be appropriated … Sundry new members have been recently added to the list of subscribers, and among them many eminent for their literary (ability), particularly in the language of their country. This is a valuable acquisition to the society, as among other objects of its most interesting pursuits, it proposed to embrace the poetry, as well as the melody of Ireland. Meantime, the only impediment to afford an immediate asylum to the blind, and education, instruction and support to the future bards of Erin, is the unpaid subscriptions, which we trust it will be only necessary to apply for to have constant discharge’.

It was a vain trust. If we examine the income from subscriptions for 1810 it appears that an amount equal to that of 30 subscribers only, at the minimum of one guinea per annum, was paid in (out of a published list of 222 subscribers, of whom most were affluent).

When Trotter retired hastily, and just slightly more quickly than the pack of chasing creditors, to a rented villa, Montalta, in Wicklow to write his ‘Life of Charles James Fox’, and thereby earn a much needed income, there also flowed from his pen a stream of invective against those perceived friends whom he felt had let him down in his hour of need. His extravagance had ruined him; former friends shunned any connection with him, and we can count among these many of the subscribers of the Harp Society. Notwithstanding the success of the ‘Life’ his debts mounted and he was ‘forced’ to beg from His Majesty’s ministers. He was offered, by the Duke of Richmond (through the Prime Minister, Canning) a small place in the Revenue, at £150 per annum, but indignantly rejected this. In a letter to Lord Liverpool he states ‘I think he (Mr. Canning) never knew that the small revenue-place offered me by the Duke of Richmond was unfit for me to accept. Mr. Trail was ashamed when he proposed it to me; that which was degrading I could not take’. [63] Hunted from Wicklow, he retired to Dalkey and subsequently to Hook Head, Co. Wexford where he was arrested for debt and lodged in the Wexford Marshalsea. He was removed from here by Habeas Corpus to the King’s Bench Prison in Dublin from where he wrote to Fitzwilliam on March 25th 1812, seeking redress and complaining of the conduct of the magistrates (particularly Messrs. Tottenham and Handcock) after his arrest for debt. [64] On his release it was his intention to go to England at the invitation of Lord Yarmouth who had responded in friendly terms and sent him £200, but Trotter was a marked man, politically and socially, and he was again arrested on the insinuation that he had expressed seditious opinions while in Wexford. News of this arrest soon reached England, as we learn from a contemporary English newspaper report: ‘It is said that Bernard Trotter, Esq., who was private secretary to the late Mr. Fox, has been arrested and committed to Wexford Gaol, on a charge of frequenting secret meetings, and of assault and rescue’. [65]

It was a trumped-up charge and, following his acquittal, he left for England, not to return until 1813. But even this temporary asylum brought no relief. Trotter never prospered after; his return to Ireland saw him stay for a while at Balbriggan, Rathfarnham - from where he was driven by his creditors - to Tramore and, following another brief sojourn in England and Wales, he returned via Bristol to Cork. He was declared bankrupt in 1817. He died in Cork ‘in great privation’ on September 29th 1818. He was buried in the churchyard of the Cathedral at Shandon, Cork (which was to have close associations with those involved in blind welfare later in the century). His letters were published after his death, under the title of: Walks through Ireland, in the years 1812, 1814 and 1817; which contain a memoir of the author. These ‘letters’ were addressed to the Rev. William Liddiard, (rector of Knockmark, Co. Meath) his former acquaintance in the Dublin Harp Society. [66]

There can be no doubt that the failure of the Harp Society was wholly influenced by the fate of Trotter. He had received and given generously. At one time in his later troubled life he received £200 from the Prince Regent (from whom he had received in excess of £1,000 in all) and sent this ‘to discharge his engagements with the Harp Society’. [67] In this might be conjectured a possible factor in the demise of the Harp Society.

Although we have no evidence to support such conjecture, might it not be possible that its funds were briefly compromised by Trotter’s pecuniary needs or by the lack of the £200 per year which he had promised to the society? Its social cohesion certainly was and its dodgy pseudo-political leanings were suspect in the eyes of the establishment. Another factor which speeded its demise was the breath and presumption of its spread of interests; these were too diverse and it literally toppled before it could walk. In one aspect of its brief life it did prosper, but this success, paradoxically, was to hasten the demise of the ‘ancient’ harp which it so earnestly wished to ‘re-awaken’ and advance. ‘The great objections urged against the Irish harp was the deficiency of its compass, that it contained only the interval of the whole tones, and therefore the performers could not change key without retuning the instrument, and consequently could not pass from a major to a minor key, or introduce a half tone, both of which are so essential to modern music.

One of the main objects of the Irish Harp Society was the improvement of the instrument, so as to enlarge its capacity without materially altering its principals; and with this view they appointed Mr. Egan their harp maker, being appraised of his zeal and ingenuity, - after collecting a variety of instruments of different ages and constructions, and devising sundry models for carving the ‘Clauseach’ or sounding board, (Clairseach - actually ‘Com’ belly or sounding board [O’Curry and Bunting]) and cionar, or arm, (here the reporter is either referring to the harmonic curve or ‘Corr’ or the ‘Lamhcrann’ or front pillar [O’Curry and Bunting]) which mark the distinctive character of the Irish harp.* Mr. Egan at length succceded and presented to the society an instrument capable of passing to any key without interruption, in which the complexity of pedals is avoided, the graceful curve of the clauseach, and cionar of the original Irish harp preserved, and the instrument still so cheap and portable as to be adopted to the limited means and general use of itinerant minstrels. To this he is about to add a further improvement - the present pedal harp, is limited to a scale of 3 flats and four sharps - his improved harp will be accommodating to 7 flats and 7 sharps, and will contain seven complete octaves, from E to E, every string can be made flat, sharp or natural, and let down without putting the instrument out of tune, while the steel springs so complex and so injurious to the tone of the pedal harp are entirely laid aside. To assist the ingenious man in his exertions, and to enable him to carry into effect the other improvements which he proposes, the Society have voted him a remuneration not commensurate to his merits, but due to its limited means. Associated for the purpose both of charity, and patriotism, they cannot at present fund both objects - they wished that the poor blind boy, should not only have a means of support but means of solace and amusement, they wished to say -

‘Behold where the Child of affliction and sorrow,
When he ever gazed on the splendor of light,
Is taught by the trembling vibration to borrow,
One bright ray of joy from the horrors of night!’

‘This interesting object the public have not yet enabled them to affect, but in their other purpose they have succeeded - the Irish harp is now improved from the rude state in which it had continued for eight centuries since the days of Giraldus Cambrensis’. [68] It seems here that the Society was crying halt to the idea of a school for blind harpers. We have no record of the names of any of its pupils and can only guess that, at most, it commenced the training of three pupils - although the Freeman’s Journal for August 31st 1809, spoke of ‘the blind instructor Quin and his ten blind pupils’.

In these closing days of the society it advertised a meeting to be held at the house of Messrs. Goulding and Co., Westmoreland Street, for Wednesday May 20th at 2 o’clock. This meeting was reported on Monday May 26th 1812 on the front page of the Freeman’s Journal: ‘At a general meeting of the Irish Harp Society held this day at the house of Messrs. Goulding and Co., Westmoreland Street, Joseph Le Fanu, Esq., in the chair, it was resolved ‘That the sum of £30 be given to Mr. Egan harp maker to the society, for his improved Irish harp and that in consideration of the ingenuity evinced by him in its construction, the Society do present him with the same, to exhibit as a specimen of the improvement, and that a further sum of £10 be given to him, as a remuneration for the expense he has incurred in constructing models for the use of the society. That this resolution be inserted in the Freeman’s Journal and patriot newspaper. That this meeting be adjourned to Wednesday next at two o’clock, signed, by order, Robert Walsh, May 20th 1812. Egan was delighted and his notice of appreciation and accompanying ‘puff ’ duly appeared in the Freeman’s Journal on May 29th: ‘J. Egan, pedal harp maker, to her Grace the Duchess of Richmond, and harp-maker to the Irish Harp Society, with the warmest feelings of gratitude returns his respectful acknowledgements to the gentlemen of the Irish Harp Society for their very handsome remuneration, and also for the encouraging approval of his exertions in the new improvement and construction of the harp, recollections that shall ever by him be most gratefully preserved. Egan takes this opportunity of stating that he has ready for sale, a variety of Irish and pedal harps, on the newest and most improved principles, which for quality of tone and beauty of workmanship are allowed fully to equal any imported. They are to be had for nearly one half the importation price, and are warranted by him for five years, accidents excepted.

NB a variety of pedal harps for hire, by the month, week, or for a single night. Harps of all constructions repaired and tuned, Pedal Harp Manufactory, 30 Dawson Street’.

The ‘improvements’ which Egan brought to the ancient harp spawned another beast entirely, albeit one which was eminently more suited to the new music of the drawing rooms. his workmanship was excellent and there are three versions of the ‘Royal Portable’ harp extant which show a progression in its development and manufacture. That at the Victoria and Albert Museum (No. 332-1882 Non Keyboard Catalogue No. 16/15) is described as a ‘Portable Harp by John Egan, about 1820, Japanned (dark green) with gold paint (swags of shamrocks with other decorative filigree)’. It is inscribed J. Egan Inventor, 31 Dawson Street Dublin. It has 34 strings from C (base) to A, giving it four and a half octaves but it seems that this harp was modified; 31 of its strings from F (base) to A can be either sharpened or flattened by the use of seven levers located in the fore pillar or ‘Lamhcrann’. These acted on small metal revolving mechanisms which operated on the strings, much as the sharping levers do on a modern neo-folk harp.The three additional base strings do not have this capability and take from the overall symmetry of the harp’s construction and possibly affected its harmonic qualities. Whether they were a later addition or custom-added by Egan, we are unable to state. The harp known as the Thomas Moore Harp, now in the possession of the Royal Irish Academy, shows a slightly different and possible later construction. This is possibly the harp which was delivered by Egan’s son to Thomas Moore at his father’s lodgings in Abbey Street, Dublin on Wednesday October 17th 1821. Moore’s journal for that date records: “Egan, the harp-maker most anxious that I should judge of the power of his improved Irish Harps - sent his son with one - the Chase at the door at 1/2 past three, and some beautiful Irish airs played to me during my last moments - Had wine in & all filled bumpers to the Irish Harp & our next happy meeting - the effect saddening”. A third Egan harp No. 2098 recently been presented to the Historical Harp Society of Ireland by Mrs Elsa Warren of Mitchelstown, Co. Cork. It is currently in course of restoration. Each of these harps are of excellent construction.

It only remained for the Dublin Harp Society to close the curtain on its brief history. On Thursday December 31st 1812 at Messrs. Goulding and Co., Westmoreland Street, at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, it held its final meeting to ‘determine on the best mode of applying the balance in the hands of the Vice-treasurer’. [69] This was to be the last known act of the Dublin Harp Society.

*The reporter here misused the terms for the types and parts of the Irish harp. The ancient harpers distinguished between five types of harp: Timpan (very ancient dulcimer), Cruit, the high-headed harp, Crom-Cruit, the down-bending harp, Clairseach, the common harp, Cinnard and Ceirnin, supposed to have been the portable harp, used by priests and religious.

[There follows a notice on The Drogheda Harp Society 1840-1843]


38. Biographical Memoirs of John Bernard Trotter, pp. vi-xxxvi in Walks through Ireland, In a series of Letters to an English Gentleman, By John Bernard Trotter Esq. Private Secretary to the late Right Hon. C. J. Fox. London, printed by Sir Richard Phillips and Co. Bride-Court, Bridge-Street, and sold by John Cumming, Dublin 1819.
39. ibid. See also John Hutchinson, A Catalogue of Notable Middle Templars, with Brief Biographical Notices, [London]: The Honourable Society of the Middle Temple, 1902. xiv, 284 pp. Reprinted 2003 by The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd. LCCN 2002041361.
40. ibid
41. Charlotte Milligan Fox, Annals of The Irish Harpers, London Smith, Elder & Co. 15 Waterloo Place, 1911, p.p. 56-57.
42. ibid.
43. Freeman’s Journal, July 17th 1809, page 2. See Also Syllabus of the first commemoration of Carolan consisting of ancient Irish melodies as performed in the Private Theatre in Fishamble Street on Wednesday September 20th 1809 and repeated by general desire at the Rotunda on Wednesday September 27th 1809 in aid of the funds and under the patronage of The Irish Harp Society, the Second edition corrected and enlarged, Dublin, Printed by the Hibernian Press Company, printers to the Irish Harp Society, 1809. Royal Irish Academy, Halliday Collection, (Box) 371/11.
44. Freeman’s Journal, July 28th 1809. pages 1 and 4.
45. Rachel Pollard, The Avenue: A History of the Claremont Institution, Denzille Press, Dunlaoghaire, Co. Dublin, 2006.
46. The Freeman’s Journal, August 5th 1809.
47. The Freeman’s Journal, August 12th 1809.
48. ibid.
49. The Freeman’s Journal, August 19th 1809.
50. The Freeman’s Journal, August 31st 1809. page 2. See also The Freeman’s Journal, September 4th 1809 page 2.
51. The Freeman’s Journal, September 12th 1809.
52. The Freeeman’s Journal, September 29th 1809. See also: Syllabus of the first commemoration of Carolan consisting of ancient Irish melodies as performed in the private theatre in Fishamble Street on Wednesday September 20th 1809 and repeated by general desire at the Rotunda on Wednesday September 27th 1809 in aid of the funds and under the patronage of The Irish Harp Society, the Second edition corrected and enlarged, Dublin, Printed by the Hibernian Press Company, printers to the Irish harp Society, 1809. RIA, Halliday Collection (Box) 371/11.
53. The Freeman’s Journal, October 14th 1809.
54. The Freeman’s Journal, October 16th 1809.
55. The Freeman’s Journal, November 16th 1809.
56. The Freeman’s Journal, February 2nd 1810, page 1.
57. The Rules and Regulations of the Irish Harp Society instituted in Dublin July 13th 1809. List of the officers and subscribers, printed by Irish Hibernian Press Co. Printers to the Society, 1810. Halliday Pamplets 973/7, Royal Irish Academy, Dublin. See also The Freeman’s Journal, Jan 25th 1810, page 3. The Freeman’s Journal, February 2nd 1810, page 1.

58. ibid.
59. The Freeman’s Journal, August 29th 1810, page 1.
60. Haliday Papers — Broadsides, 3B 53-56 1365. Royal Irish Academy, Dublin.
61. ibid.
62. Biographical Memoirs of John Bernard Trotter, pp. vi-xxxvi in Walks through Ireland, In a series of Letters to an English Gentleman, By John Bernard Trotter Esq. Private Secretary to the late Right Hon. C. J. Fox. London, printed by Sir Richard Phillips and Co. Bride-Court, Bridge-Street, and sold by John Cumming, Dublin 1819.
63. National Archives, Kew, London, File WWM/F/127/115, Letter from Trotter to Fitzwilliam, 25th November, 1812.
64. Some Selected Reports from The Salisbury and Winchester Journal and General Advertiser of Wilts, Hants, Dorset, and Somerset, Monday, November 16th 1812.
65. Biographical Memoirs of John Bernard Trotter, pp. vi-xxxvi in Walks through Ireland, In a series of Letters to an English Gentleman, By John Bernard Trotter Esq. Private Secretary to the late Right Hon. C. J. Fox. London, printed by Sir Richard Phillips and Co. Bride-Court, Bridge-Street, and sold by John Cumming, Dublin 1819.
66. ibid.
67. The Freeman’s Journal, May 28 1812, page 3.
68. The Freeman’s Journal, December 31st 1812, Front page.
69. Patrick L. Cooney, The Drogheda Harp Society, Journal of the Old Drogheda Society 1976.