The harps of O'Neil and Bell
Sydney Owenson relates in The Wild Irish Girl that 'a very eminent modern Irish bard, Mr
O'Neil' wrote, "My harp has thirty-six strings of four kinds of wire, increasing in strength from
treble to bass." This matches the number of strings on one of the Talbot gamuts.
John Bell gives the following information on the wires for a 34 string harp gamut. The longest
wire he could apparently get was to be found in 'Flower the wire drawers Church St. Dublin'.
number of strings quantity of wire type of wire
8 2oz fine treble
5 2oz coarse [treble]
7 1/4 lb tenor
6 1/2 lb brass
3 1/2 lb brass
5 1/2 lb brass
Unfortunately the sisters are not mentioned, but Bell originally wrote the numbers 7, 5 & 8
(totalling 20) as 6, 6 & 7 (totalling 19). This may indicate that he miscounted from some central
point upwards. Since the sisters are tuned to the same pitch but of a different length from
each other, this might have been an appropriate point on the gamut at which to change the
string gauge. This may also have helped the sisters to sound differently.
If the top sister is imagined at the bottom of Bell's tenor, there could then be a total of 19
strings above the sisters and 13 below, forming a gamut similar to that on Mooney's harp but
with one more string in the top range. If the sister pitch G marked the top of the bass section,
this might explain Bell's use of the word 'tenor' for the first seven strings from a recount point
of the top sister. Perhaps he was counting from the A above the sisters for the initial set of
numbers and then from the top sister for the second set of numbers. This would make both
alternative tenor figures 6 & 7 meaningful, as they would refer to the leading strings.
The total count for the treble strings, 13 both times, might indicate a category separate to
seven leading strings. As the top 11 strings of Fanning's harp (ee-bb) were of iron, it is
reasonably to consider that Bell might have used iron for the top 13 strings here too, Bell's
'coarse' and 'fine treble'. It is noteworthy that brass is mentioned in connection with the
bottom 14 strings alone.