James Joseph Magennis VC Frances Elizabeth Clarke Stewart Parker Samuel Beckett Sam Hanna Bell William Carleton John Hewitt Rosamond Praegar Bernard (Barney) Hughes

Edward Bunting (1773 - 1843):
Acclaimed collector of folk music


Edward Bunting was born in February 1773 at Armagh, son of Edward Bunting, the manager of a team of Derbyshire colliers who arrived to the Dungannon area 1754; he switched location in about 1760, beoming a carpenter in Armagh (carpentry was a key part of the mining industry). In 1770 we find him in Scotch Street, Armagh, with five children but not yet Edward, so his birthplace may be presumed to be this address. 

Edward’s mother was Mary Quin from a native Irish Tyrone family, the source according to Edward of his passion for traditional Irish music. His  first music teacher was Robert Barnes, previously organist at St Patrick’s Cathedral Armagh, but he may also been taught by Barnes’s successor and the more nationally influential, Dr. Langrishe Doyle. Barnes and Edward Bunting senior are listed together in the Belfast Newsletter (16 September 1774) alongside others from the coal venture. 

In 1782 on the death of his father, he went to live with his organist brother Anthony in Drogheda, continuing his musical education. In 1784 he moved to Belfast as apprentice to William Ware, organist at St Anne's. There he rapidly demonstrated his musical talent, becoming deputy organist, and, although still a boy, coached many of Ware's adult pupils.

Bunting lodged for the next thirty-five years in Donegall Street with the McCracken family. In 1792 a festival of the last of the great Irish harpers was held in Belfast in the Assembly Rooms (later Northern Bank), and Bunting was given the task of copying their music which he eventually published in three volumes. In the early years of the nineteenth century Bunting promoted several successful series of concerts in the town. St Anne's was the only church in Belfast at that time with an organ, but in 1806 a second Presbyterian Church was built (demolished 1964) and, contrary to the usual practice in Presbyterian churches, an organ was installed. Bunting was appointed as the church's organist. It was here that in 1813 he organised a great music festival at which a large portion of GF Handel's "Messiah" was performed for the first time in Belfast

In September 1817 after a dispute with the church he was asked to hand over the key of the organ and he became the first organist of St George's. In 1819 he brought the men of the two Dublin cathedrals, Christ Church and St Patrick's to St George's to chant the service and sing anthems and excerpts from Messiah. In the same year he married Mary Anne Chapman and the couple moved to Dublin. He was organist at St Stephen's, and later also a partner in a music warehouse. In 1827 he secured a well-paid position as organist at St George's.

Edward was an intimate of the major figures in the Society of United Irishmen of the period, Henry Joy McCracken (who was in effect his foster brother), Thomas Russell and Wolfe Tone. He was present at several key dinner meetings with the doomed United Irishmen leadership. He was demonstrably a sympathiser, but a non-militant who wisely kept his head down.

Without Bunting's work our knowledge of traditional tunes and techniques would be immeasurably poorer, and many may not have survived. Bunting's own musical abilities were considerable. In 1795, on Wolfe Tone's last night in Ireland, his rendition of "The parting of friends" reduced Mrs Tone to tears. On 21 December 1843, mounting the stairs at home, he suffered a heart attack and died within an hour. He is buried at Mount Jerome cemetery in Dublin along with his wife and son, Anthony. 

There are a number of buildings in Belfast with links to Bunting:

St Anne's - demolished

Second Presbyterian - demolished

Assembly Rooms - much extended

St George's - largely unchanged

Further information, in Irish, can be accessed  here.



Born: February 1773
Died: 21 December 1843
Pat Devlin & Frank Bunting