Edward Bunting’s Second Published Collection of Irish Music, 1809

In 1809, some twelve years after his first published volume of ‘ancient’ Irish music appeared, Edward Bunting, now in his mid-thirties and still living in Belfast, published a second similar volume harmonised for the piano, again in London. Most of its melodies had also been collected by him from the vanishing race of professional harpers, some of whom he had sought out across the north of Ireland in the years following the Belfast Harp Festival of 1792. Other melodies he had notated from Irish-language singers. Of the 77 melodies in this second collection, 13 are repeated from the 1797 collection.

A new departure in this volume is the inclusion of English-language verses, by a variety of writers, set to 20 of the melodies. Most are based on prose translations from the Irish. This innovation was an attempt by Bunting to emulate the recent 1808 successes of Thomas Moore in setting his original verses to traditional airs in his Irish Melodies series (Moore would go on to use a further 17 Bunting melodies from this 1809 collection). Not being an Irish speaker, Bunting employed agents to collect the Irish words of the songs with a view to publishing them, but in the event, for a variety of reasons, he did not do so. The brief historical notes on the Irish harp in his first volume are greatly expanded in this, with the inclusion of harp descriptions and of technical terms used by the harpers. Plates of illustrations are added, and the Irish harp is put into an international context of British harps and harps of ancient civilisations. The music was engraved by an R.T. Skarratt, and the volume was printed by a T. Davison, Whitefriars, London. In spite of the ‘Vol. 1’ inscription on the title page, no second volume appeared under this title. At the time of his death Bunting was working on a revised edition of the volume, but this was never completed.

This second Bunting publication was musically well received and has been influential, but it was not commercially successful. It is said that Bunting sold on the copyright to the firm of Clementi which had produced it, and which republished it in London in 1811 (and possibly in 1819). An 1836 reprint by the London firm of Willis & Co. has also been recorded. Later reprints were published in 1969, 1981 and 2002 by Walton’s Piano and Musical Instrument Galleries in Dublin, and in 2012 by the Linen Hall Library in Belfast. An extensively annotated edition of the music of the volume utilising Bunting's surviving music manuscripts, with song texts etc., was made by Donal O'Sullivan and A. Martin Freeman and published as vols XXVI–XXIX of the Journal of the Irish Folk Song Society (1932–39). The edition was reprinted in 1967 by the London firm of Wm. Dawson & Sons. 

The Irish Traditional Music Archive facsimile copy presented here (along with its 77 related interactive music scores) is of a first edition once owned by the Scottish musician and composer, and editor of Irish music, Alfred Moffat (1863–1950). The caption on the harp frontispiece is unclear in this copy; it reads ‘Ancient Irish Harp, in the possession of Noah Dalway Esq./ Bellahill, near Carrickfergus./ London. Published Nov. 1809 by E. Bunting’.

NC, MG, SC, TH & JS, 12 November 2015

[Amended December 2017]