There is not much information available about the people who made old Gaelic harps. Most of the old harps are unsigned, and old documents and descriptions rarely mention harp makers. This page collects evidence.
Donnchadh Fitz Teigh (fl. 1621)
The Cloyne harp bears an inscription:
Cormac O'Kelly (fl. 1702)
The Downhill harp bears an inscription:
Edward Bunting3 tells us that Cormac O'Kelly was from ‘Ballynascreen, co. Derry, a district long famous for the construction of such instruments’.
Bunting also says ‘Quin's harp was made by the same artist...it bears the date 1707’. The Castle Otway harp was owned and played by Patrick Quin in the later 18th century. Armstrong says ‘Upon the back of the forepillar, that is the portion nearest to the box, the figures 1410 are incised, immediately following which the name Cormac O'Kelly rudely carved can be indistinctly traced, after which there are letters or figures now scarcely visible’.
John Kelly (fl. c. 1730)
The Bunworth harp bears an inscription:
A second harp, now lost, has an inscription:
Connor O'Kelly (fl. mid 18th century)
Arthur O'Neill (1734 - 1816) described working with a harpmaker, while staying with 'my friend Hugh O'Neill':
19th century makers of Gaelic harps
In the early 19th century, attempts were made to save the dying Gaelic harp tradition by setting up Schools to teach the Gaelic harp to young blind people. Harps were made for the Societies by the top Dublin pedal-harp maker John Egan, and after him his nephew Francis Hewson. Other makers who produced instruments in the 19th century for the Societies include Francis Flood in Drogheda7, Mr. White in Belfast8, Gaudy in Belfast9.
Valentine Rainey was master of the Belfast Harp Society's school from 1823-37. Patrick Byrne said
James's son Edward was the master of the Belfast school immediately before Rennie.
The Gaelic harp traditions died out completely by the end of the 19th century, and so too did the traditions of Gaelic harp making. Gaelic-style harps made after c. 1890 up to the present day were by necessity either copied from the extant museum examples, or (less satisfactorily) made up on modern principles.