230 years ago, the last of the great harpers in Ireland gathered in Belfast for the Belfast Harp Assembly; a bid to preserve and revive the dying aural tradition of Irish harping.
Only eleven harpers turned up. Seven were blind. The eldest was Denis Hempson, 97, from County Derry.
A young Edward Bunting, aged just 19 at the time, was ascribed the task of transcribing the music to preserve it for future generations. The achievement of his work is not to be underestimated. It is the transcriptions of Edward Bunting from these ancient harpers that continues to inform and inspire new generations of harpers today and in the future.
Edward Bunting was so captivated by the music of the old harpers, particularly the very old style of Denis Hempson, and he continued to travel, collect and preserve harp music for the duration of his career. The collections of Edward Bunting span 1792-1840 and reside at Queen’s University, Belfast Special Collections.
These ancient manuscripts are my primary interest and I am committed to teaching this ancient music to my young pupils here on the north coast of Ireland, helping to revive this very special musical heritage.
As part of Harps Alive/ An Cruit Bheo, and thanks to nationwide body Harp Ireland/ Cruit Eireann, my young pupils and I enjoyed a wonderful opportunity to learn some of these ancient tunes and perform them at the splendid Mussenden Temple, on the cliffs of Downhill, at a Gala evening celebrating ‘The Life and Times of Denis Hempson.’
I am delighted to be playing a part in reviving and celebrating the tradition and heritage of Irish harp through passing on the music and history to a new generation of harp players.