Patrick Byrne, about 1794 - 1863. Irish Harpist
Originally uploaded by National Galleries of Scotland
[Image above (click through for a better version): vintage photo of an older man, wearing blanket-like draped robes and a laurel wreath on his head, seated at a harp]
The National Galleries of Scotland began uploading images to the Flickr Commons project this week--and in the first batch of 107 photos, this image of blind Irish harpist Patrick Byrne (17??-1863). There was a long tradition of blind harpists in Ireland before Byrne--including Arthur O'Neill (1737-1816), Echlin O'Cahan (b. 1720), Thady Elliott (b. 1725), Owen Keenan (b. 1725, aka "The Blind Romeo of Killymoon"), Denis O'Hempsy (1695-1807--yes, I typed that right, he was believed to be 112 at his death), and Rory "Dall" O'Cahan (b. 1646, the Dall in his name indicates his blindness). And of course, Carolan (1670-1738) (thanks to Kathie S. for the reminder there!).
Last year marked the 200th anniversary of the 1808 founding of the Irish Harp Society in Belfast, one of the first schools in the world for blind musicians. In its first years, the school taught music in Irish, because the technical terms the teachers used were Irish words. So the school was considered both a vocational training program and a cultural preservation effort.