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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Blind Irish Harpist Matthew Wall Performs and Teaches in Boston in 1832


(Researched by Michael Quinlin)

One of the first Irish musicians cited in public records to perform and teach Irish music in early 19th century Boston was Matthew Wall, a blind harpist who emigrated to New Brunswick in 1830 before eventually making his way to Boston.   

The Boston Evening Transcript, October 6, 1832 issue, ran a notice announcing Wall would be performing at the State Museum, corner of Court and Howard Streets in Downtown Boston near Scollay Square. Wall was described as "a celebrated performer upon the Irish Harp. As this is the first instrument of its kind ever in this country, the lovers of Music will do well to avail themselves of this opportunity to witness the sweetness of its tones...This was the instrument used by the bards of olden times, and is well calculated to touch and arouse the feelings." The same notice ran on page one of the October 12, 1832 issue.

On October 17, 1832, in another notice published in the Transcript, Wall "tenders his services to the ladies and gentlemen of Boston, as an instructor on the Harp....His terms are moderate and no pains will be spared to advance his pupils."

On October 19, 1832, the Transcript runs an editorial endorsement, stating that Wall "is himself an admirable performer, and, being unfortunately deprived of sight, and having a family dependent upon him, presents claims of more than ordinary urgency on the benevolence of our citizens."

Microfilm of the Boston Evening Transcript is available at the Boston Public Library

According to a notice in the Belfast News Letter (June 22, 1830), Wall was a member of the Irish Harp Society, which urged him to accept "an offer made by Mr. M. Cannan, of St John’s, New Brunswick, to give him a free passage from Belfast to that place, and to settle him there as a Harper."

Wall was likely playing an Irish harp built by famed instrument maker John Egan of Dublin, who is hailed for creating the modern Irish folk harp, according to harp historian Simon Chadwick.  A copy of an Egan harp is in the musical instrument collection at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts.

For more about Boston's history and heritage, visit IrishHeritageTrail.com.

For details about Irish culture in the Boston area, visit IrishBoston.org