Art O’ Neill Commemoration: “The Last Minstrel of Ireland” Saturday 2nd July from 9.30am

Art O’ Neill Commemoration: “The Last Minstrel of Ireland”

Saturday the 2nd of July will see a dedicated all-day seminar held in the Great Hall at Benburb Priory which will celebrate the life and music of Art O’Neill, the Blind Harper from Tyrone.  This unique and special event will commemorate the 200th anniversary of Art’s death in 1816 at Maydown near Benburb.

Arthur Ó Néill (circa 1734-1816) was born into thatfinal generation of itinerant harpers who carried the music of the Irish wirestrung harp into the early nineteenth century.He was born in the townland of Drumnastrade, the Ó Néill family home,between Benburb and Dungannon, a few miles from Benburb village. After losing his sight in childhood, Ó Néill was taught the traditional harptechnique by Owen Keenan of Augher. He travelled Ireland enjoying the patronage andhospitality of many of the significant figures of late eighteenth century Ireland.

Sixteen years after taking part in the Belfast Harpers Assembly of 1792, whichfeatured the music of Ireland’s leading Harper’s including Ó Néill, he was selectedin his seventy-fifth year to administer the Belfast Harp Society’s project for theeducation of blind children in the traditional harp technique, the final seriousattempt to save the tradition as a living culture. One of his first pupils and his successor was Valentine Rainey, nephew of Robert ‘Rabie’ Burns, the Bard of Scotland.

At Edward Buntings prompting, Ó Néill had earlier dictated hislife story to Bunting’s secretary Thomas Hughes, although his Memoir wouldwait a full century before Charlotte Milligan Fox first published this in her‘Annals of the Irish Harpers’ (1911).A new improved reprint of this book will be launched at the seminar.

The seminar will be chaired by Brian Mullen of BBC Ulster and Radio Foyle.  It will feature scholars and musicians such as Siobhán Armstrong who is one of Europe’s foremost historical harpists and chairs the Historical Harp Society of Ireland;Dr Colette Moloney, a County Cork musician who is currently Assistant Registrar at the Waterford Institute of Technology. Herpublications include ‘The Irish Music Manuscripts of Edward Bunting (1773-1843): AnIntroduction and Catalogue’ (ITMA 2000); Dr Sara C. Lanieris an acknowledged authority on the historical Irish HarpTradition, the Belfast Harper’s Assembly of 1792 and the life and work of CharlotteMilligan Fox. She has researched the mid twentieth century harp revival instigated by the Folk Harp Movement in California and is the originator of the term “California Celtic”; RolandSpottiswoodeis a writer and visual artist. After a successful career in filmproduction (Pink Floyd The Wall, 1981; The Snowman 1982) in 1996 he returned to full-time painting; FintanVallelyis a musician, writer, lecturer and researcher on Traditional music, originally from Armagh; Dr Peter Smithis Reader in Irish at the Ulster University. He is a graduate of Trinity College Dublin and the University of Oxford.His publications include ‘Songs fromthe Sperrins: Traditional Singing from Mid and North Tyrone’ (Derry 2009); and, Éamonn Ó Bróithe is a piper and singer from Dún Laoghaire, Co. Dublin, buthas spent his adult life in the West of Ireland, where he now lives.

Everyone is welcome to attend this event which promises to be a very special and unique opportunity to look in to the life, times and craft of Art O’Neill, and the legacy he left.

To book your place on this event, please visit or  please contact James Kane on 07876 385282.