The Mullaghmast harp

Most of the information relating to the Mullaghmast harp comes from the time when it was in Scotland and in the ownership of the Marquis of Breadalbane. A paper noted by David Kortier on the back of the harp that says "brought to Taymouth Castle from the Marquis of Breadalbane's apartments at Holyrood Palace, May 10th, 1860" clearly identifies this harp's connection with Scotland.

References to the harp first appear in January 1855 in letters from a Laurence Davidson in Edinburgh, to Sir Alexander Campbell of Balcardine, who was one of the factors on the Breadalbane estate. The harp was one of a number of items that were coming up for sale from the collections of the late Archibald Leckie. On the 20th anuary, Davidson wrote:

My Dear Barcaldine
I enclose a note of our purchases at the Leckie sale today. We bought through an agent never before employed by us and therefore unsuspected. The prices appear to be moderate. The Irish harp was keenly contested. The (... ...) proceeding bidder was Mr. Dibden the composer who proposes to give lectures on Harp Music and wished this old antich for illustration. perhaps his lordship may think of giving Mr D access to it, if he is really to lecture. Please say if I am to forward the items to Taymouth.

National Archives of Scotland GD 112/74/797/5/2

This was followed by a further letter from Davidson, dated Edinburgh January 26th, 1855

My Dear Barcaldine
Leckie's Sale
Please say if we are to forward these purchases to Taymouth. The Irish Harp stands fully 5 feet in height and is in wonderful preservation. On first seeing it, it struck me that his lordship might like to have loose strings fitted on to it so as to bring out the effect better. I afterwards learnt incidentally that such Mr Dibdens intention also had he been the purchaser. If his lordship thinks this suggestion worth considering it may be well that the harp be left at Holyrood until he has an opportunity of seeing it.

Enclosed with this last letter is a list headed 'Note of purchases at the sale of the library of the late Archibald Leckie Esq. January 26. 1855'. the hand is smaller and neater than that of Laurence Davidson and is probably that of the 'agent' since each item seems to have its sale catalogue number listed. Despite the reference to Leckie's library there are no books and the list consists of a number of broadswords, including an Andrea Ferrara, axeheads, bronze runic brooches, stone hatchets, a small siler brooch and the harp, all coming to a total of £24.7.6, with the harp the most expensive item. The catalogue entry reads

1959. an old irish Harp found in County Kerry £5.15.6

The Mr Dibden who had failed to purchase the harp was the Englishman Henry Edward Dibden (1813-66), who settled in Edinburgh in 1833 and was honorary organist at Trinity Chapel there. He played the harp in a number of Edinburgh concerts and advertised his services as a teacher of harp, organ and piano. He also seems to have taught at a number of the local institutions for educating young ladies where his fees were £3.3sh per school year with two pupils an hour. (Edinburgh Courant 15 September 1836)

The final letter from Davidson to Sir Alex Campbell dated Edinburgh 29 January 1855 reads:

My Dear Barcaldine
Leckie Sale
I have your favour of 26th inst, & had the Irish Harp & also the Swords & other articles ready packed in two boxes to wait his Lordships orders. These will now be deposited at Holyrood and as the lids are not screwed down his Lordship can inspect them in the course of the shortest visit to Edinburgh, provided the housekeeper gets due notice that she may be at hand.

The Old Irish harp seems to have remained in the Marquis of Breadalbane's apartments in Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh until 1860 when it appears as package number 2 on a 'list of packages forwarded from Holyrood Palace to Taymouth on 15th May 1860' (GD112/20/Box5/6 item 103)

John, second Marquis of Breadalbane died in Lausanne on the 8th November 1862, leaving no children. Several claimants came forward for the title, resulting in the famous Breadalbane Case which was not decided by the Court of Session until five years later when John Campbell of Glenfalloch was declared the rightful heir.

As a result of the uncertainty that resulted from the lack of a clear line of descent, the firm of Christie Manson & Woods were commissioned in 1863 by the executors to compile what its cover grandly describes as an 'Inventory of the Pictures and other Works of Art, Marbles, Antiquities & Curiosities, The Property of The Most Noble The Marquis of Breadalbane, K.T. Deceased, at Taymouth Castle, N.B. and Park Lane, London'. Listed in the Gun Room at taymouth is 'An Ancient Irish Harp found in Mulagh Mast. Co Kerry' (GD112/22/58/1-3). As far as I can see from jottings made on copy number three of the inventory, it seems to have been valued at £5.

According to Grainne Yeats, Mullaghmast is a bog south-west of Naas, Co. Kildare (despite the reference above to Co. Kerry).

Keith Sanger 2004