[Harp-L] Early Harmonica in Ireland, Donegal, Ballyshannon.

Hello Harp-L(ers),
I was sent this lovely story/email by someone looking information on the
topic below. If anyone out there got any information I would like to pass
it on. Thanks Harp-L!:

"Write to you because I happened to find your dissertation about harmonicas
on the web(found via a link on my website below), while searching
desperately for a harmonicon. I hope you might find the time to help me
with some information, and get yourself a sweet little harmonica story at
the same time.

My research is really to find out as much as I can about some manuscripts
in a library in Trondheim, where I live. There are six tiny handwritten
booklets of songs, about ten in each, written by an anonymous  "Donegal
female", who is almost certainly Mary Anne Allingham (as they belong
together with other manuscripts with poems and stories written by her ca
1825-1830). She was the daughter of a Ballyshannon merchant and was an aunt
of the poet William Allingham, you might have heard about him. A cousin
nephew of Mary Anne's lived in Trondheim, and the manuscripts were a gift
to him, that's why they are here.

Anyhow, the lady who wrote the songs used melodies she know, wrote them
down and added her own new lyrics. Some of the sheet music is clearly
copied from books, while she probably wrote other melodies on her own.
Which wasn't easy for her, as she had never learnt music. The pitches are
mostly OK, but the length of the notes and the bar lines are all mixed up
as she didn't understand how to use them. She writes herself in a preface:

“ … I cannot vouch for the correctness of the music, as it is set in these
pages: understanding very little of that elegant art; not being even a
common place performer on the piano; or on any other instrument, excepting
an Harmonicon (the lowest of instruments, save the Ivy leaf played by the
breath of some strolling son of Harmony: But humble as is the Harmonicon,
it has assisted me when a grand piano would have remained proudly silent or
if touched ever so lightly by my fingers; echoed indignant notes of
Discord.  But remembering that my Songs are not intended to meet the stare,
of the keen many eyed PUBLIC; I give them (a little trembling I confess)
with all their “blushing imperfections thick upon them” to the kind and
cheerful Circle of FRIENDS with in whose space my mast days have mooved
calmly and pleasantly round; sometimes sprinkled with a few slight Spring
Showers; but for the most part basking in the warm Sun Shine of HOME. “

I was searching in vane for ages to find the Harmodicon, so that I could be
sure of what it was. Then, at last: "Harmonicon - A small, flat, wind
instrument of music, in which notes are produced by the vibration of free
metallic reeds; it is now called the harmonica."  Webster's Revised
Unabridged Dictionary, published 1913 by C. & G. Merriam Co. (p 671)

The songs were probably written around 1830, as it must have been after
Byron's death in 1824 (which she refers to) and probably before she married
in 1833. Her education seems somewhat neglected, as most ladies of her kind
were supposed to learn the piano at the time. Instead she probably bought a
harmonica herself. It's interesting to see she could find one so early in
Ballyshannon, but there were trading ships coming in all the time from
different ports in Europe so probably some sailor or merchant brought
harmonicas with him to sell.

Well, my question to you is simply what you know of the earliest records of
people playing harmonica in Ireland. Could Mary Anne be one of them, or are
there others even earlier on that you know of? In case you haven't spent
much time researching exactly this theme yourself, would you happen to know
abut someone else who might know? Or maybe some written material  where I
might find out?… …"

Regards and thanks in advance!

Cathal Johnson


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