Eleven harpers help Edward Bunting save music of Ireland.
Who was Edward Bunting?
The 1792 Belfast festival honoring Ireland’s national heritage was organized to augment the celebrations surrounding the 3rd anniversary of the fall of the Bastille (July 14, 1789). The venue of the contest was in The Assembly Room, of the now unoccupied and until recently, Northern Bank building on Waring Street in Belfast (which was opened as a market house in 1769). The festival was held 11-14th July 1792.
Henry Joy, an uncle of Henry Joy McCracken, and Dr James McDonnell, invited harpers from across Ireland to come to Belfast and play their music. Edward Bunting, a young organist of 18, was appointed to note down the tunes.
The festival attracted ten Irish harpers and one Welshman. The harpers ranged in age from a venerable ninety-seven to a youthful fifteen. Six of them – in true Irish tradition – were blind. Prizes of ten, eight and six guineas were awarded to Fanning, O'Neill and Rose Mooney respectively. Charles Fanning winner of the first prize played An Chuilfhionn, better known to us as the Coolin. This tune was composed by Thomas Connellan, an Irish Harper born in 1640 at Cloonmahon Co Sligo and died in Edinburgh around 1700. (Carolan was born in 1670 and died in 1738.)
The names of the harpers are:
(More about these harpers in future posts)
Bunting was born in County Armagh, Ireland. At the age of seven he was sent to study music at Drogheda and at eleven he was apprenticed to William Ware, organist at St. Anne's church in Belfast and lived with the family of Henry Joy McCracken. At nineteen he was engaged to transcribe music from oral-tradition harpists at the Belfast Harp Festival in 1792. As Bunting was a classically trained musician, he did not understand the unique characteristics of Irish music, such as modes, and when transcribing tunes he 'corrected' them according to Classical music rules. One proof of this is that some tunes published by him were in keys that could not have been played by the harpists. His notes on the harpists, how they played and the terminology they used is however invaluable, and also many tunes would have been lost if he had not collected them.
Bunting went on a number of collecting tours between 1792 and 1807, and was the first to transcribe music 'in the field' as played by the musicians. He realised the importance of the Irish words to the songs and Patrick Lynch was employed to collect these. Bunting, who lived in Belfast with the McCrackens until his marriage in 1819, moved to Dublin where he held the post of organist at St. George's Church. He died in Dublin on 21 December 1843 and is buried at the Cemetery of Mount Jerome, Dublin.