Bunting Manuscript Collection

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 752 BMMC
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
      English Gaelic
  • Physical Description
      250 items. The Bunting Collection includes mainly original handwritten manuscripts (both music and text), notebooks, bound volumes, monographs, letters and photographic plates amounting to approx. 250 items, c 1791-c 1856. Facsimiles of the principal musical manuscripts are available on request.

Scope and Content

This is a major collection of Irish musical manuscripts, notebooks and correspondence etc concerning the work of the Irish Music Collector and Musician, Edward Bunting (1773-1843) arising out of the Belfast Harpers Festival of 1792 and published in "A General Collection of Ancient Irish Music" in 1796 (revised 1809 and 1840). The collection consists mainly of musical manuscripts compiled and notated by Bunting during the festival and on his subsequent tour of Ireland, 1792-c 1810 and notebooks of lyrics in both Roman and Gaelic script compiled by the Irish Scholar, Patrick Lynch of Loughinisland, Co. Down, during his tour in 1802 which he undertook on Bunting's behalf. Other miscellaneous items of note include a memoir and autobiography of the Irish harpist, Arthur O Neill of Co.Tyrone, a diary kept by Lynch during his travels in 1802 and a folio of letters to Bunting, c 1802-1840 from friends and associates interested in his work. Included in this last item are letters from James McDonnell, one of the principal organisers of the Belfast Festival of 1792, Patrick Lynch and various plates depicting musical instruments, harps and the harpists, Arthur O'Neill and Denis Hempson of Magilligan, Co. Derry. The collection also contains copies of the three principal editions of Bunting's work, published in 1796, 1809 and 1840 as well as manuscript scores by Bunting's older brother, Anthony, from 1843.The principal strength of the Bunting Manuscripts derives from the unique nature of their contents. Bunting's work in recording the repertoire of the Irish harpers represents a very early example of an oral history project. Through his work, Bunting ensured that the melodies and songs of some of Ireland's ancient music was preserved for future generations to come. The collection is notable for illustrating not only the wealth of the material being performed by itinerant musicians in the late 18th century, but also for reflecting the cultural sensibilities of the age with Belfast leading the way in promoting the preservation of Irish culture and traditions.

Administrative / Biographical History

Edward Bunting (1773-1843) is remembered as the foremost collector of Irish folk music of his age. A capable musician in his own right (he had, by the age of 11, begun to deputise as organist at St. Anne's Cathedral, Belfast), he was responsible for recording, for the first time, the repertoire of the traditional Irish harpist. Engaged on this service by the organisers of the Belfast Harper's Festival of 1792, he spent the next number of years touring the length and breadth of Ireland talking to the principal harpists of his generation, most notably Arthur O'Neill of Co Tyrone and Denis Hempson of Magilligan, Co. Derry, transcribing their sounds and songs for posterity. His seminal collection of Irish airs was then published in 1796 with subsequent revisions appearing in 1802 and 1840. Married in Belfast in 1819, Bunting shortly moved with his family to take up his responsibilities as organist of St. George's Church, Dublin. He died in that city on 21st Dec 1843 and is buried at the Cemetery of Mount Jerome.

Access Information

Open to consultation. Material in the following languages - English, Irish Gaelic, Scotch Gaelic


Description compiled by Clare McVeigh (RASCAL Project) and entered by Deirdre Wildy, Special Collections

Other Finding Aids

Hard-copy catalogue available. See 'Calendar of Manuscripts Western and Oriental' (MS4) for details. This calendar is available for consultation in the Special Collections Reading Room.

Custodial History

The Bunting Manuscript Collection was acquired by the University Library from the family of Edward Bunting, namely his grandchildren, Lady Deane and Dr Louis McRory, in 2 principal deposits. Although it is unclear when the first deposit, (representing the majority of the collection) was made, the second part (consisting of approx. 14 items, c 1807-43) was deposited by Lady Deane in June 1917.


Closed, permanent deposit. The Bunting Collection is managed as a separate unit reflecting its original provenance; new material is not acquired.


Publications: A general collection of the ancient Irish music (1st edition, 1796; 2nd ed., 1809, 3rd ed., 1840).