One of the last harpers from Tyrone

Arthur O'Neill
Arthur O'Neill

ARTHUR O’Neill was born in the townland of Drumnastrade near the village of Eglish, in 1734.

At the age of two he was accidentally blinded and as a result when he reached the age of ten his parents sent him to live with Owen Keenan “an old harper” from Augher to learn to play the harp.

After just five years tuition, he was fully accomplished in the playing of the instrument. This allowed him to be independent and able to earn a living by playing the harp in big houses around the whole country.

He also competed in various festivals including the famous Belfast harp festival in 1792 in which his music was recorded by Edward Bunting.

After several years travelling throughout the country he settled in Belfast and taught the harp in the newly established Belfast Harp Society, where he was appointed Professor of the harp and received an annuity of £30.

Having pursued this role for a number of years, Arthur by now had no income and lived in poor conditions. He eventually found a small house at Crowhill, Maydown, Benburb where he lived until his death in 1816. He is buried in the ‘ONeill family burial ground in Eglish.

To hear the story of this remarkable character come along this Friday to an event being organised by the O’Neill Country Historical Society and dedicated to the memory of Arthur ONeill. The evening starts with a bus trip leaving from Benburb at 7pm following the Heritage Trail taking in the sites associated with the harper. At 10pm there will be a short film on his life followed by a traditional music session.