Date: Monday 30th July
The Belfast Harp Festival, called by contemporary writers “The Belfast Harpers Assembly”,11–14 July 1792, was a four-day event organised by merchant class Presbyterians Dr. James McDonnell, Robert Bradshaw and Henry Joy, (proprietor of the Belfast News-Letter and uncle to Henry Joy McCracken). It’s purpose was to revive an interest in harp music and to collect the music of the harpers and note their style of playing for future generations. What was hoped to be a revival proved to be a farewell to the old tradition. Eleven harpers attended. Seven were blind. The eldest, Denis Hempson (1695 -1807) from Derry, was 97. He was the only one to use the ancient way of playing with the fingernails. By far the most important thing that happened at the festival was that a young man from Armagh named Edward Bunting(1773-1843) was employed to write down the music of the harpers and to make notes on their instrumental techniques. He dedicated the rest of his life to collecting and preserving Irish music. He published three volumes of music, collectively known as the Ancient Music of Ireland. Tonight we pay tribute to that event and the Bunting Collection.