Volume 1 of “Musical Instruments” by Robert Bruce Armstrong. Pages 92-94.

The Bunworth Harp was made by John Kelly in 1734 for the Reverend Charles Bunworth, Baltdaniel, rector of Buttevant, County Cork. It now resides in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

The majority of this article was quoted from "Musical Instruments" by Robert Bruce Armstrong.[1] The book can be downloaded and read for free by following the link in the references. For your convenience, the relevant section can be read below.

Book Excerpt Edit

Made By and For Whom Edit

This Harp was made by John Kelly [2] in 1734 for the Rev. Charles Bunworth, Baltdaniel, rector of Buttevant, County Cork. [3] 

Ownership Edit

In 1826 it was in the possession of Mr. Bunworth's granddaughter. Miss Dillon of Blackrock, near Cork, [4] and afterwards became the property of Mr. Bunworth's great-grandson, Thomas Crofton Croker, author of the Fairy Legends of the South of Ireland, whose mother was a daughter of Croker Dillon of Baltdaniel, County Cork, [5] at which period a drawing was made which was engraved for Mr. and Mrs. S. C. Hall's Ireland, vol. ii. p. 410 [6] After the death of Mr. Croker the Harp was sold by Messrs. Puttick and Simpson on 22nd December 1854, and was purchased by Thomas Bateman of Lomberdale House, Derbyshire, and placed in his museum. At the disposal of Mr. Bateman's Collection by Messrs. Sotheby, Wilkinson, and Hodge in June 1893 it was No. 292 in the catalogue, and eventually became the property of Rev. F. W. Galpin, [7] and now forms part of his most interesting and valuable collection of musical instruments at Hatfield, Essex. 

From Mr. T. Crofton Croker we learn that Mr. Bunworth was known far beyond the limits of the parishes adjacent to his own, not only for his performance upon the Irish Harp, but also for his hospitable reception and entertainment of the harpers who travelled from house to house about the country, who sang his praises to the accompaniment of their harps. [8]

From another writer we learn that "he was greatly distinguished for his patronage and knowledge of Irish music, and that he was a remarkably good performer on the Irish Harp." [9] 

Both these writers mention the Harp. 

Harp Craftmanship Edit


Detail drawing of Bunworth harp.

Although this Harp is of a comparatively late make, it is of interest and value, and in some respects differs from the other specimens noticed. It is besides the only known example by John Kelly that has been preserved. That maker perhaps lived in a district where suitable blocks of wood were not easily obtainable ; so, the one selected to be hollowed out for the box being somewhat irregular in form, Kelly appears to have found it necessary to follow the irregularities or bends of the tree. Thus we find near the upper portion of the left side a depression extending for two feet. This depression is 3/8 inch deep in front and nearly 1/2 inch deep at the back; and on the right side near the lower termination a depression extending for 1 foot, which is in front 1/4 inch deep and 3/4 inch deep at the back. 

This Harp is well decorated. The ornamentation mainly consists of wavy stems with foliage, from which spring roses, thistles, and lilies — symbolical of England, Scotland, and France — and as the shamrock is not represented, the Harp itself may be accepted as the symbol of Ireland. The patterns are, as a rule, shown by incised lines, and are enriched by colour. 

Soundbox Edit

The box is formed out of a solid block. The sounding-board, which is convex both at the upper and lower extremities, has been drawn up in an unusual manner by the tension of the strings, so at the highest portion we find the string- band 2 1\4 in. above the sides of the box. The raised string-band, which is at the upper end 1 1/2 in. wide, and at the lower extremity 2 1/8 in., terminates at the upper end in a fleur-de-lis in relief. This string-band, which ceases to be in relief as it approaches the fore-pillar, is then indicated by incised lines, and terminates in a lily of different form, also shown by incised lines and colour. In place of " shoes of the strings" there are short pieces of thin brass perforated and attached to the string-band. There are no sound-holes. The width of the box at its lower termination is I3 3/4 in., at the first string-hole in the treble 5 1/2 in., and at the upper extremity 4 in. The length of the box, which terminates at either side of the projecting block in straight lines, is 41 3/4 in. The projecting block is only 2 in. in length, and is shaped or cut both from the sounding-board and from the back. An examination of the interior of the lower portion of the box shows that no block of wood has been left above the projecting block, and that the end of the box is I 3/8 in. thick. The thickness of the sounding-board has not been ascertained, but it is most probably considerably thicker at the lower extremity than at any other part. The back of the box, which has two circular cavities or sound-holes, is not fitted into the sides, but is attached to them and to the lower end. The depth of the sides at the upper extremity is 5 1/4 in., about the centre 5 1/8 in., and at the lower termination 4 1/4 in. At the upper extremity the back of the box has been cut or shaped, i.e. an angular piece has been removed. There is a cavity in the upper portion of the front of the box 3/4 in. deep ; this is carried backwards for 3 1/2 in. 

Harmonic Curve Edit

The harmonic curve is fitted into the cavity in the upper portion of the box, after leaving which at a right angle it is straight for some distance before it takes the usual curve. At the treble end it is 3 5/8 in. deep, at the centre 3 1/2 in., and at the bass 3 in. It is rounded above, and is mortised into the fore-pillar in the more modern fashion, and held together by brass bands which form single curves and are pierced for the tuning-pegs. The length of the harmonic curve, to where it joins the fore-pillar, is 31 in. above, in fact, the upper portion of the harmonic curve is pierced and forms a graceful ornament, the centre of which is unfortunately missing, but the roughly cut portions show where the fractures have occurred and where in the centre the scroll ornament joined the harmonic curve. 

Fore-Pillar Edit

The fore-pillar is somewhat bent, and is carried up the full height of the instrument, forming the bass portion of the harmonic curve, and terminates in a head, apparently that of a female with a pendent headdress extending of back from the chin, above which is a cushion, on the front of which the coronet of a countess is represented by incised lines. The lower portion of this cushion, at the sides and back, takes the form of a series of semicircles. The fore-pillar, which is not inserted into the projecting block as is usual, joins the sounding-board one inch from the end of the box ; it has the T formation the whole length. The greatest width of the T formation in front is 3 3/4 in., the thickness of the outer edge being 3/8 in. increasing to 3/4 in., the entire depth of the fore-pillar being 3 in. The width of the upper portion of the fore-pillar is 2 1/2 in., from the middle to the lower end 3/4 in., at the back 7/8 in. The length of the fore-pillar is 5 ft. 3 in. The total height of the instrument is 5 ft. 6 1/2 in. 

Tuning Pegs Edit

The bands through which the tuning-pegs pass form single curves, and are pierced for thirty-three tuning-pegs ; the length of the shortest string is 3 3/8 in. , that of the string attached to the last tuning-peg in the bands is 40 in. Besides the tuning-pegs in the bands there are four in the upper portion of the fore-pillar — the length of the string from the uppermost of these is 44 1/4 in., that from the second 41 1/2 in., that from the third 39 1/4 in., and that from the fourth or lowest 38 1/4 in. Most of the tuning-pegs are old and are ornamented ; the strings are modern. The last string-hole in the bass is 3 inches from the fore-pillar and 8 inches from the end of the box. The first string hole in the treble is 3 7/8 inches from the junction of the harmonic curve and the box. 

Ornamentation and Color Edit

The ornamentation of the box is indicated by incised lines and colour, the ground being chocolate, the other tints mainly sober red and white. The lily at the lower termination of the string- band is repeated at either side of the lower extremity of the sounding-board. There are six ornaments in place of sound-holes. These are shown by incised lines, and are painted red and white ; in form they are hexafoils inclosed in circles, the hexafoil terminations being joined by inverted semicircles. On either side of the sounding-board there is a border in colour terminating in the half lily ornamentation before referred to, the other half of each lily being represented upon the sides of the box. From each of these half lily ornaments, and running along the edge nearest to the angle formed by the sides of the box, are borders indicated by a series of incised semicircles ; these borders are carried round the upper ends of the sides of the box and along the lower portion of the sides. Within the spaces surrounded by these bands the rose, thistle, and lily are represented on the left side by incised lines and coloured sober red. The rose and lily alone are represented upon the right side, and are variegated in colour. 

The front of the fore-pillar beneath the female head already noticed has the sides straight for some distance, then a large circle with two inner circles, below which the sides represent for a considerable portion of the entire length a series of semicircles, and larger circles with two inner circles and straight sides terminate the fore-pillar. The ornamentation between the upper and lower circles is shown by incised lines. In the centre the following occurs : "Made by John Kelly for the Rev. Charles Bunworth, Baltdaniel, 1734"; above which is a thistle and beneath a lily, both being well represented. On the left side of the fore-pillar and behind the T formation the rose, thistle, and lily occur, while on the right side the rose, thistle, and lily also appear. The back of the fore-pillar is without ornament. 

Upon the left side of the harmonic curve the rose, thistle, and lily appear, while on the right side the rose and lily only are represented. 

The harmonic curve and the fore-pillar are attached to the box by iron straps, each having at their extremities fleur-de-lis ornaments; these straps, which are nicely fitted and attached by screw-nails, are probably modern. 

The Harp has not the appearance of having been much used; that is, the angles formed by the sounding-board and sides are not rounded off or worn away as they would be had they been subjected to constant friction from the wrists or arms. The original keys do not show signs of wear. Upon the left side of the sounding-board a piece has been added, and upon the left side of the box two pieces have been let in. If these are not the work of John Kelly the ornamentation has been well reproduced. The Harp is much worm-eaten, and as it is painted the wood used in its construction has not been ascertained. 

Today Edit

The original Bunworth harp currently resides in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

A replica of this harp has been built by David Kortier for renowned wire-strung harper Ann Heymann.

Further Reading Edit

Excerpt's References Edit

Numbers 2-9 are footnotes found in the excerpt. For more information, refer to the original text.
  1. Armstrong, Robert Bruce. "Musical Instruments: Free Download." Internet Archive. Edinburgh: David Douglas, 1904, n.d. Web. 20 Apr. 2016. <>.
  2. The district in which John Kelly resided has not been noticed, but he probably belonged to the south of Ireland, as the two harps made by him of which we have illustrations and notices were in the possession of persons who resided in that portion of the Island.
  3. Croker's Fairy Legends, Edn. 1826, p. 197. At the contention or meetings of the bards (poets) of Ireland between the years 1730 and 1750, which were generally held at Bruree, County Limerick, this gentleman was five times chosen umpire or president. — Croker's Sale Catalogue. See Hardiman's Irish Minstrelsy, vol. i. note, p. xxvii.
  4. Croker's Fairy Legends, p. 204.
  5. Dictionary of National Biography.
  6. It is stated in the Lomberdale House Catalogue that the drawing was by D. Maclise, R.A., who was certainly a friend of Croker's; but Mr. and Mrs. Hall, who usually notice the illustrators, do not mention by whom the drawing was made. There are also small illustrations in Fairy Legends, Edn. 1898, and in Ancient Musical Instruments (the Galpin Collection) by William Lynd.
  7. Mr. Galpin in the most generous manner permitted the writer not only to photograph this Harp, but also any other of the numerous instruments belonging to him which formed part of the exhibition of musical instruments at the Crystal Palace in 1900.
  8. Mr. Galpin in the most generous manner permitted the writer not only to photograph this Harp, but also any other of the numerous instruments belonging to him which formed part of the exhibition of musical instruments at the Crystal Palace in 1900.
  9. The Worthies of Ireland, Richard Ryan, p. 228.
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.