Northern Ireland news

How the Irish harp struck a chord with India 200 years ago

International harpist Lily Neill
Mairead Holland

HARPISTS and scholars will come together in Belfast next month to celebrate the instrument which has long been synonymous with Ireland.

This year is the 200th anniversary of the foundation of the Irish Harp Society of Belfast and the seminar will feature a range of performers and speakers.

However, it will also reveal how it was a group of people in India who set up and almost entirely funded the society.

Knows as the Bengal Subscription, they were Irish, Indian and of various backgrounds and religions, and were united by their desire to support a future for the Irish harp.

The conference will take place in the city's Linen Hall Library which also played a key role in preserving the music.

The library's involvement dates back to July 1792 when members organised a festival "with the intention of having the music taken down and recorded for the first time".

The focus will be on the library's Beath Collection which contains material from the 18th and 19th centuries.

The line-up on Thursday, September 12 features internationally renowned harpist Lily Neill and Simon Chadwick who will play on a reconstruction of an 18th century Irish harp.

Speakers include Frank Bunting, whose relative Edward Bunting was the first person to research and write down traditional Irish harp music, and Philip McDonagh, a former ambassador to India who will examine cultural links between Ireland and India.

The event runs from 3.30-7.30. Tickets cost £20 per person and can be obtained from the Linen Hall Library on

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