Bunting Collection Queen's University Belfast


MS 4


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 Collection 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.

Physical Characteristics

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.



Collection Type



Policy: Closed   Method: Donation;   Periodicity: Closed


The collection is available for reference only under supervised access in the Special Collections Reading Room at The McClay Library. Further information is available here: http://www.qub.ac.uk/specialcollections 

Visitor access to The McClay Library

Legal Status

Queen's Univeristy Belfast has legal ownership of these materials.

Description or Catalogue

Bunting Manuscript Collection listing: http://www.qub.ac.uk/directorates/InformationServices/TheLibrary/SpecialCollections/Manuscripts/#d.en.607208

Manuscripts webpage

Images of selections from this collection available in Digital Special Collections & Archives.



Bunting, Edward, (1773-1843)



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



Queen's University Belfast


The McClay Library
10 College Park




Access Control

The McClay Library operates a controlled entry system.  Members are required to use their Queen’s staff, student or library card to obtain admission. 

Information for visitor access to The McClay Library for researchers not affiliated with Queen's is available from the Library website at http://www.qub.ac.uk/lib

Visitor access to Special Collections & Archives is detailed here http://www.qub.ac.uk/specialcollections

Administrator Role








Academic Institution






Queen's University Belfast was formerly established as 'Queen's College, Belfast' by Queen Victoria in 1845 as one of a network of three Queen's Colleges in Ireland alongside Cork and Galway. It was raised to the status of a full university in 1908 with its own Charter and Statutes. When Queen's College first opened its doors in 1849, there were 20 professors and 90 matriculated students all based in the main Lanyon building off University Road, Belfast. Since then, the University has grown considerably both in reputation and stature reflecting its status as one of the oldest universities in the UK. Now catering to some 1,300 academics and 17,000 full and part-time students, the University offers courses and research opportunities in Agriculture & Food Science, Arts, Economics & Social Sciences, Medicine & Health Sciences, Science, Engineering, Education, Law and Theology based in centres within several miles of the original site, as well as a Marine Laboratory at Portaferry, a campus at Armagh City and outreach centres in Omagh and Newcastle and a nursing campus at Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry. Notable persons to have come through Queen’s doors include Seamus Heaney, a recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Mary McAleese, former President of Ireland and senior officer at Queen's, David Trimble, a former member of teaching staff and a joint recipient of the Nobel Prize for Peace and actor Liam Neeson.