About William Kennedy

William Kennedy (1768–1834)

Eithne Vallely

[an extract from The William Kennedy Lectures, a compilation (2019) of 19 essays based on lectures presented during the first 25 editions of the William Kennedy Piping Festival; available to purchase in the Armagh Pipers Club Shop]


Our main source of information about William Kennedy in preparing a lecture for the second (1995) Festival[1] was an unsigned article published by Francis Joseph Bigger in the Ulster Journal of Archaeology of 1906.[2] This article I then assumed to have been based on one in a book published in 1821 (when Kennedy was still alive), entitled Biography of the Blind by James Wilson.[3] It has since become clear that the source for Wilson, and thus for the UJA piece, was an article signed ‘W’ published in The Belfast Monthly Magazine in 1808,[4] and including direct quotations from Kennedy himself, then in his fortieth year.[5]

William Kennedy was born near Banbridge, County Down, in 1768,[6] and lost his sight at the age of four, probably due to smallpox which then resulted in blindness among about a third of sufferers. As was the custom of the time, blind children were sent to learn music, so when William was thirteen, he went to a Mr Moorehead in Armagh to learn to play the fiddle. He made good progress, by his own account becoming second-best of the students, and remained there for a year and a quarter. While he was in Armagh (about 1781-83), he lodged with a cabinet maker, and availed of the opportunity to learn to use tools.

Flood’s 1911 The Story of the Bagpipe records:[7]

In the years 1765-75 Moorehead of Armagh was a skilled violinist and piper. His son and pupil was the famous John Moorehead, violinist and composer… A third pupil of Moorehead was William Kennedy, a noted blind piper of Tandragee (1768-1850).

There is a similar passing reference to Kennedy in O’Neill’s 1913 Irish Minstrels and Musicians,[8] in relation to John Moorehead: “His father, like ‘Piper’ Jackson and ‘Parson’ Stirling, was a violinist and piper of distinction, one of his pupils on the latter instrument being William Kennedy, a noted blind piper of Tanderagee”. (John is credited with composing the tune Speed the Plough; sadly he ended his life by suicide in 1804.) It is curious that these two sources maintain that Kennedy learned the pipes from Moorehead senior, while the 1808 account mentions only the fiddle, and no other source has been found referring to Moorhead as a piper. 

T.G.F. Paterson, who was curator of Armagh County Museum, added a few more details to the picture of Kennedy’s early life.[9] On returning from Armagh, he began to make furniture. In 1786, when he would have been about 18, he made an excellent writing cabinet for Mrs Reilly of Scarva, where he met the celebrated blind piper Downey.  Paterson maintains that it was here that Kennedy first became interested in pipes. An interesting aspect of this story is that Mrs Reilly was taught to play the harp by a blind harper through the medium of Irish, which would have been spoken extensively in this area at the time.

In 1793, Kennedy married and settled for a short time in Mullabrack, near Markethill, before moving to Tandragee where he would live until his death in 1834. Kennedy tells us in the 1808 article that he bought an old set of Irish bagpipes and, “without instruction”, had great difficulty in putting them in playing order. Soon he was repairing instruments for the neighbourhood. As he “found so many defects” in his old set, he began to think that there might be “a better plan than any I had yet met with” for making pipes, so he set to making tools and had his first set of new pipes completed in just nine months (“for indeed I slept but little”).

A local clockmaker was interested in learning to play pipes so they mutually instructed each other, Kennedy acquiring great skills in both crafts. In order to support his wife and family, Kennedy worked for many years making and repairing musical instruments of all kinds. He also made clocks – ordinary clocks and musical clocks; he made linen looms and occasionally made furniture. His principal employment at that time, however, was making Irish bagpipes; as he said himself in 1808, “I have made thirty sets these past eight years”.

The 1808 account then continues with a description of Kennedy’s innovations in making “this imperfect national instrument”:

To the chanter he has added keys, by which some flats and sharps, not capable of being before expressed on the instrument, are now produced with ease. He has also added E in alt. being one note above the original compass of the instrument. Two additional notes are given by him to the Organ-stop, and some of its notes are capable of being varied from naturals to sharps, according to the key on which the tune is played.

The basses or drones, as they are commonly called, formerly only in correct tune when playing on some particular keys, are now constructed so that their notes can be varied as the key varies on which the tune is played.

There is also another alteration worthy of notice; by the addition of two large keys, managed with the wrist, a part of the basses, or all of them, can be stopped and opened at pleasure.

All in all, an amazing accomplishment for one who was blind. Was Kennedy the first to put keys on a chanter? O’Farrell’s Treatise does not mention keys.[10] Kenna, Coyne and Egan pipes generally have at least four keys. Did Kennedy invent a high E key? Was the “Organ-stop” referred to by ‘W’ a regulator? Perhaps the writer had not heard of this term. It is possible that O’Farrell invented both of the terms “regulator” and “Union Pipes”. The small number of Kennedy sets which have come to light have one regulator and three drones. Only the set owned by Trevor Stewart appears to be stamped with the maker’s name.

References to “tuneable” drones and regulator are a bit mystifying unless they simply refer to tuning pins. The reference to “two large keys, managed with the wrist” may mean a stop key, and the late pipe maker Ken McLeod suggested that Kennedy may have invented this.[11] However, the Armagh set does not have this facility – perhaps it is a very early set. The 1808 article implies that Kennedy’s pipes were made from ebony; the sets that we know of are either of boxwood or in the case of the Armagh set, of pear wood, appropriate enough in the Orchard of Ireland.

The next few lines of the article are worth quoting in full, as indeed they were in many subsequent publications based on the piece:

From a rude block of ebony, a fragment of an elephant’s tooth, and a piece of silver… having first formed his lathe and his tools, he shapes and bores the complicated tubes, graduates the ventages, adapts the keys, and forms an instrument of perfect external finish and beauty “that discourses most eloquent music,” capable of expressing the finest movements in melody, and by no means deficient in harmony; and all this by the exquisite sensibility of the touch, for he is stone blind, and quite incapable of distinguishing the black colour of ebony from the white of ivory. Under poverty therefore and physical privation of the most overwhelming kind, he has gradually brought his mechanical powers to this pitch of comparative perfection! What an incentive to perseverance under difficulties much less insuperable!

In updating the 1996 lecture for the present collection, we came across a passing mention in a Dublin newspaper from 1810:[12]

William Kennedy, the blind mechanic, has now for exhibition in Belfast, a perfect chamber repeating-clock and a set of bag-pipes; the clock, excepting the spring barrel, spring, and fusee, are all of his own construction, and the bag pipes, with the exception of casting and soldering the silver pipes, are all the work of his own hands. They are very perfect of their kind.

Thereafter occasional references to Kennedy appear from time to time, usually on the topic of his blindness. One such appeared in The Newry Register in 1815:[13]

Kennedy of Tandragee can distinguish by the touch, on any kind of watch in common use, the time of day to a single minute, by merely gliding his fingers round the dial plate, and thus ascertaining the position of the hands. He is an excellent judge of fine and superfine cloth, and has often been brought to Newry, and his expenses paid, for selecting choice pieces of that article, for wear.

As already noted, Kennedy’s repute led to further mentions in print in the following decade, including James Wilson’s Biography of the Blind in 1821,[14] and the Henry Wilson, George Smeeton and Gavin Douglas compendiums of 1821, 1822 and 1829.[15] In 1833 he was praised in a book by the French journalist, teacher and economist Pierre-Armand Dufau: “Assuredly, there are few among our brilliant industrialists who would have merited a gold medal more than poor William Kennedy, of County Armagh!”[16] Dufau was also the author of the entry on notable blind people in a biographical dictionary published in the same year, where Kennedy is mentioned in one sentence: “In the industrial professions, I would simply recall… the engineer Kennedy of the county of Armagh, in Ireland, who without ever having perceived the slightest light, became successively a maker of furniture, of musical instruments and of various manufacturing equipment”.[17]

We are indebted to the piper and historian Nick Whitmer of Ithaca, New York, for the discovery of two references to Kennedy. The first was in a pamphlet produced in 1833 by “The Wandering Piper”, Graham Stuart (d. 1839), who attracted considerable press coverage in the 1830s while travelling incognito in England, Ireland and North America, performing for charity, minus expenses. Stuart records, in a passage that appears to relate to July 1828:[18]

…having met with a blind man in Tanderagee that several gentlemen of respectability, with whom I had the honour of spending the evening, had invited to join the party. There is scarcely anything in the mechanical way, but what he can execute with the greatest exactness. He has been known to regulate some highly finished time-pieces, after they had defied the art of some of the first professional men in the country. He has likewise brought the union pipe to a perfection as yet unprecedented. I saw him make a pipe reed, which I consider a very nice piece of mechanism, in a very few minutes, and finished in such a manner, as I have never before seen its equal; and yet, for all this, I believe he has considerable difficulty in keeping body and soul together.

There is evidence that Kennedy’s skills were applied to at least one other variety of pipes. Late in life, he came to the notice of the Scottish poet, novelist and historian Sir Walter Scott, then a leading member of the Highland Society. Scott kept his correspondence in “letter-books”, the 21st of which, for 1830, includes this communication from Henry Bell of Lambeg, Co. Antrim:[19]

I wish to acquaint you that an ingenious blind Mechanic, William Kennedy of Tanderagee… has by a simple and ingenious improvement of the Great Highland Bagpipe, the compass of which in its original state is 9 notes, now rendered [it] capable of running up to D in alt. or two octaves. The difficulty of performance is not increased thereby, otherwise the addition might be of little or no value.

As this improvement of the National Highland instrument may be much esteemed by those who take an interest in the Musick of Scotland, he hopes through your kind notice that if he makes the improvements known to the publick, the Highland Society may bestow upon him such reward as he may be thought deserving of. It may be urged by some that the instrument in its original state is quite capable of performing its national Highland airs. Yet we must admit that the power of performing many of the Lowland airs would be a pleasing addition, and that ‘Tweedside’ and the ‘Birks of Endermay’ &c., might delight the Lowlander, who never before could have heard them performed on the Instrument without the present addition.

We do not know whether the Highland Society, or the other institutions with which Scott was associated, bestowed any such reward. Scott died in 1832, and Kennedy in 1834.

It was difficult to find any more information on Kennedy until a friend of Jim Blaney’s who was interested in the history of clocks discovered that he had died in 1834.[20] We located his obituary in the Newry Telegraph; he had died on 29 October 1834 – and we had unknowingly organised our first William Kennedy Piping Festival almost on the 160th anniversary of his death. The 25th edition of the Festival, in 2018, marked the 250th anniversary of his birth, with the unveiling of an Ulster History Circle blue plaque outside his former home and workshop, now the Montagu Arms bar, in Tandragee.

The Telegraph’s obituary in full:[21]


Died, at Tandragee, on the morning of the 29th ult., Mr. William Kennedy, one of the most extraordinary men who have appeared in these latter times. Though totally deprived of sight, he was enabled, through his industry, his perseverence [sic.], and his genius, to execute with precision, taste and judgement, various elaborate works of a nature which have heretofore required the utmost exertions of well-trained artists, in full possession of all the senses and faculties with which nature had endowed them. This ingenious man fabricated his own tools, and with ease he constructed time-tellers, bagpipes, flutes and various other instruments of music. He invented also a particular kind of bagpipe, by means of which he was enabled to regulate the bass at pleasure, so as to render it at all times accordant with the varied modulations of the airs which he chose to perform. It possessed great sweetness, depth and organic power. By frequent use, the points of his fingers, which seemed in some respects to resemble horn, were capable of discriminating the most minute objects by the touch.

Strange as it may appear, he was fully adequate to the tuning and repairing of organs, however numerous their stops and complicated their machinery. Add to this, that he was a kind-hearted, friendly, industrious, moral and religious man; an affectionate husband, a fond parent, and, in all respects, a useful and justly esteemed member of society. – Guardian.

Six months later the Newry Telegraph carried an advertisement placed by a group of local worthies who had decided to raise funds for Kennedy’s “afflicted Widow, who, during a long life of privation, was his faithful Companion, and, in his last illness, an unwearied Nurse-tender”. The text mentioned that before his death “this most extraordinary man” had been repairing a barrel organ. “He understood Watch-making, and frequently cleaned Clocks and Watches, made and repaired Musical Instruments”, but his chief occupation was in “making Shuttles and Temples” (adjustable stretchers) for looms. This “singular old man… was a member of the Church of Scotland” (i.e. a Presbyterian, whether Ulster Synod or Seceding) and “often played Psalms and Hymns to his Redeemer’s praise” on “a Set of Bagpipes, which he made for his own use” and which were to be displayed at the Royal Dublin Society where donations would be collected.[22]

A later advertisement from a Dublin paper stated that the pipes were exhibited from 20 May onwards, and acknowledged a subscription of five shillings from a “T.W., Esq.”.[23] Given the imminence of the Famine, it is to be hoped that these efforts raised some funds to help the bereft family. The signatories to the appeal included Henry John Porter, of Tandragee Castle, land agent to George Montagu, Viscount Mandeville MP (later the 6th Duke of Manchester). Porter was a prominent member of the Orange Order, of which Montagu was at the time a Deputy Grand Master, and County Grand Master of Armagh.[24]

That seems to be the last mention of Kennedy in the Irish press until he appears in an article in the Armagh Guardian in 1844: a moralising anecdote on the importance of hard work (reprinted in the Guardian in 1868 and in its successor, the Ulster Gazette, in 1994). However the entire substance of this article had previously appeared in print, in French, in 1837,[25] so we may yet discover an English-language original. (Although Kennedy was only three years dead in 1837, the dates in the various versions of the story – e.g. Kennedy having been born in 1775 or 1776 – are so far off what we know of his biography that the whole should be taken with a pinch of salt.) The same tale appeared in translation in several Italian periodicals in 1846-48.[26] It was published in London, but in a French textbook, in 1859,[27] and in a Catholic fortnightly magazine in Québec in the same year.[28] In Belgium, it appears in an official school textbook in 1864.[29] A similar version reappeared in an American Catholic periodical many years later.[30]

In all the published versions we are told that a neighbouring lad, George Fitzel (or Fitzell), who loved to idle away his days, was driving his father to despair. One day when a crowd including the feckless George was gathered in Kennedy’s shop, William was asked to explain how he was able to do such amazing work without sight. Kennedy told his audience how he had to learn to accustom himself to judge by hearing and feeling. He hated to hear his parents being pitied for the burden that God had imposed on them. He resolved to use his other faculties to make himself as useful as possible. He learned to know that the will, aided by a sense of duty, accomplishes anything. He realised that he would need several occupations to render him independent. The happiest day of his life was when he was able to support his aged parents. Now they are dead, and he says:

The only thing I ask of God now, is health, for, as to fortune, He has given me an inexhaustible one, in granting me perseverance and a love of work… In this world the blind are not those who do not see the sun, but those who do not see their duty.

The next day, we are told, young Fitzel, suitably chastened, returned to the shop begging to be taken on as an apprentice.

The Fitzel story, though not wholly reliable, clearly circulated widely, but there are a couple of instances where it was combined with the more credible first-person narrative from the 1808 article. One is from an 1848 French compilation of “readings for use in schools and families”, edited by the noted educationalist Théodore-Henri Barrau, and very frequently republished.[31] After Kennedy recounts his life more or less as in the 1808 piece, it has him conclude: “All that I ask of God is that he keeps me healthy, because as to fortune, He has given it to me without measure, in granting me patience and a love of work.” This suggests either that both stories had reached Barrau, or that there is somewhere a text that contains both the first-person account published in 1808, and some of the material from the posthumously-published morality tale.  

Whether or not there was a germ of truth in the Fitzel story, the obvious appeal of the real biography of a blind man triumphing over adversity ensured that the 1808 article or paraphrases of it appeared again and again in compilations of “improving literature” of the type popular in the Victorian era.[32]

The many posthumous publications attesting to Kennedy’s genius brought him to the attention of the blind American authors William Artman (1825-1912) and Lansing Hall (1828-91), who wrote of him in 1864, in a book “borrowing” heavily throughout from Biography of the Blind, which had remained in print.[33] Their account is probably no more than a reworking of Wilson; it reads in full:

WILLIAM KENNEDY, who became sightless in childhood, had the reputation of being one of the best clock builders, both common and musical, of his time. This mechanical genius was a native of Tandragee, Armagh, and lived in the latter part of the seventeenth [sic.] century. When a boy, he was master builder and projector for all the children in his native town, nor did maturer years relax his desire to engage in useful employments.

When at the age of thirteen, having been sent to Armagh for the purpose of receiving lessons in music, and while there, residing with a cabinet maker, his mechanical propensities were newly awakened, and he soon made himself acquainted with the tools of his host, and the manner of working them. Although this more congenial employment occupied much of his time, he also made a very satisfactory progress in music; but, on his return home, his first care was to procure tools, with which he fabricated many articles of household furniture. He also constructed Irish bagpipes of a very improved patent, together with other wind and stringed instruments; and so perfect was his knowledge in this art, that he was, by a sort of common consent, elected repairer and builder-general, for the entire musical order, over a large section of country. In the alternate occupations of clock and cabinet making, building looms, with their various tacklings, and his other mechanical accomplishments, he maintained and raised a large and respectable family.

A retelling of Kennedy’s life, without the Fitzel story or any dates, but with much sentimental ornamentation about his exemplary virtues, appeared in a French magazine for young ladies in 1875.[34]

Another article, this time taken directly from the Biography of the Blind version of the 1808 piece, appeared in the Banbridge Chronicle in February 1880.

The few Spanish-language references we have found to Kennedy start from around 1875, in an unofficial Mexican translation of the 1848 Barrau compendium (of which licensed translations were published some years later).[35] It seems likely that the story of William Kennedy of Tandragee was taught to schoolchildren in, at least, Colombia, Mexico and Argentina where academic and national libraries still hold copies of the Barrau book; and the tale of “Jorge Fitzel” made yet another (front-page) appearance in 1904, in Quito, Ecuador.[36]

Kennedy appears briefly in passing in a local newspaper in Ohio in 1884, in a lengthy article obviously cribbed from the Altman & Hall compendium:[37]

William Kennedy, who became sightless in childhood, had the reputation of being one of the best clock-builders, both common and musical, of his time. This mechanical genius was a native of Tandragee, Armagh, Ireland, and lived in the latter part of the seventeenth [sic.] century. He was also a bagpipe maker of much local renown. 

Another reference unearthed by Nick Whitmer is from an equally unlikely source: a local paper from the state of Utah, in 1903.[38]

The other day there was sold at auction for 123 guineas a set of Irish bagpipes. They were made by William Kennedy, the famous blind mechanic of Tanderagee, near Armagh, who has never been surpassed as a maker of these particular instruments.

This sentence appears in a rambling article about blind achievers, and there is no clue as to where the auction took place. However by standard measures of inflation, 123 guineas in 1903 would, in 2019, equate to about £15,500, certainly a respectable price.[39] 

The world of pre-Famine piping in Ireland has still not yielded up all its secrets. It still poses a challenge to the music historian. With all the unanswered questions about Kennedy we still know more about the man than any of his contemporaries. What comes across clearly in all the writings which now span over 200 years is the esteem in which he was held and the impression he made on all who met him.


1. The original lecture delivered in 1995, entitled “William Kennedy and his times”, was published in the 1996 William Kennedy Piping Festival programme, and was the basis of a chapter, “William Kennedy (1768-1834)”, in Vallely, B. & E. (2012), 45 years: Armagh Pipers Club (Armagh: APC), pp163-167. Research assistance for this updated version was provided by Ciarán Ó Maoláin of Armagh Pipers Club.

2. Anon. (1906) “Irish Pipers on the Uillean [sic.] Pipes: A Short Account of William Kennedy, the Famous Blind Piper of Tanderagee, in the County of Armagh”, Ulster Journal of Archaeology, Second Series, vol. 12 no. 2 (April), pp49-52.

3. Wilson, James (1821), “The Life of William Kennedy, the Blind Mechanic of Tanderagee” in Biography of the Blind, or, The Lives of Such as have Distinguished Themselves as Poets, Philosophers, Artists, &c. (Belfast). Almost invariably transliterated as “Tanderagee” in Kennedy’s lifetime, the name of the village now known as Tandragee comes from the Irish Tóin re Gaoith – literally, Arse to the Wind. 

4. W, “Biographical Sketch of William Kennedy”, The Belfast Monthly Magazine, vol. 1 no. 2, 1 October 1808 (Belfast: Smyth & Lyons), pp117-119. The entire text was reprinted in the Belfast Commercial Chronicle, 5 October 1808, p4, and in the same paper – this time acknowledging the Belfast Magazine – on 8 October 1808. A Dublin paper, Saunders’s News-Letter, carried it on 10 October 1808. A near-verbatim version (omitting a passing jibe at a disgraced British general) was published in London a few months later, and attributed to “M.M.”: “Account of William Kennedy, a blind mechanic”, The Monthly Magazine, or, British Register, vol. XXVI no. 5 (edition no. 178), 1 December 1808, (London: Richard Philips), pp425-427. While we have not located a copy (just a reference in a 1907 library catalogue), it seems likely that it was the same text that appeared (1808) as “Biographical sketch of William Kennedy” in Marvellous Magazine no. 10, pp329-333.

5. There is no shame in admitting that, in those pre-internet days of research, I was unaware that Na Píobairí Uilleann had republished the entire 1808 article in nos. 20-21 of An Píobaire, February 1975, pp6, 7 & 10.

6. Kennedy’s place of birth is given as “Wisborn near Banbridge” in paraphrases of the 1808 “W” profile that appear as footnotes to identical chapters on another blind prodigy, Margaret McAvoy of Liverpool, in two biographical compilations from the early 1820s: Wilson, Henry (1821) Wonderful Characters: comprising Memoirs and Anecdotes of the Most Remarkable Persons of Every Age and Nation, vol. II (London: J. Robins & Co.), pp218-220, and Smeeton, George, et al. (1822) Biographia Curiosa; or Memoirs of the Most Remarkable Persons of the Reign of George the Third (same publisher), pp142-144. The birthplace appears as “Wishorn” in a later, less concisely-titled, collection of essays: Douglas, Gavin (1829) Authentic Anecdotes and Biographical Sketches of Remarkable Blind Persons: Relating their Extraordinary Abilities in Modelling, Sculpture, and Music, as also in Manufacturing Clocks, Watches, Cabinet-work, Musical Instruments, &c. &c. With Remarks on their Distinguishing Objects by the Touch, and their Modes of Ascertaining the Various Colours of Cloth, Stained Glass &c. (London: George Smeeton), pp6-8. As there is no place named Wisborn or Wishorn, and nothing else in these references not lifted from the W profile or its later copyists, this can only be a garbling of W’s opening quotation from the man himself: “I was born near Banbridge”. 

7. Flood, William Henry Grattan (1911) The Story of the Bagpipe (London: The Walter Scott Publishing Co. Ltd), p154.

8. O’Neill, Francis (1913) Irish Minstrels and Musicians: with Numerous Dissertations on Related Subjects (Chicago: Regan Printing House), p367.

9. Paterson, T.G.F. (1975) “William Kennedy, The Tanderagee Clock-Maker” in Harvest Home: The Last Sheaf: a selection from the writings of T.G.F. Paterson relating to County Armagh (Armagh: Armagh County Museum), p175 et seq.

10. The “Treatise with the most perfect instruction ever yet published for the pipes”, produced around 1799-1801, appears as an appendix in O’Farrell, P. (1804) O’Farrell’s Collection of National Irish Music for the Union Pipes (London: John Gow).

11. McLeod, Ken (1996) “William Kennedy – Blind Pipemaker of Tanderagee”, An Píobaire vol. III no. 26 (May), pp16-18 (Dublin: NPU); (2001) “Ken McLeod’s research”, Ceol na hÉireann/Irish Music, no. 3, pp15–23 (Dublin: NPU).

12. (1810) Saunders’s News-Letter, and Daily Advertiser (Dublin), no. 17,138, 7 June, p1.

13. S. (1815) “On the acuteness of blind persons”, The Newry Magazine; or, Literary & Political Register (Newry: Alex. Wilkinson), vol. 1 no. 4 (Sept. & Oct.), p307.

14. Wilson, an American-born writer and poet who was himself blind from childhood, was living in Belfast when the book first appeared, but evidently moved to Birmingham, where a second edition appeared in 1833, and a fourth in 1838 (both printed by J. Showell “and Sold only by the Author”). These expanded editions have near-identical text on Kennedy, and no new information.

15. An abridged version of the 1808 text, possibly lifted from James Wilson’s book, appeared in an “anecdotes of industry” book supposedly compiled by two Benedictine monks: Percy, Reuben & Percy, Sholto (1821, 2nd ed. 1823) The Percy Anecdotes: Original and Select (London: T. Boys), pp77-78; republished under a different imprint (1826) (London: J. Cumberland), also pp77-78.  The actual compiler was the Scottish radical, Joseph Clinton Robertson, then living and agitating in London (hence the book’s elaborate dedication to the utopian socialist Robert Owen).

16. Dufau, P.A. (1833a) “Les Jeunes Aveugles” in Paris, ou le Livre des Cent-et-Un, vol. 9 (Frankfurt: S. Schmerber); the chapter by Dufau, then a teacher in the Institut Royal des Jeunes Aveugles, translated the first-person narrative from the Percy Anecdotes. There is a near-identical passage in Dufau, P.A. (1837) Essai sur l’État Physique, Moral et Intellectuel des Aveugles-Nés, avec un Nouveau Plan pour l’Amélioration de leur Condition Sociale (Paris: Imprimerie Royale), pp198-199. He repeated some of this in Dufau, P.A. (1850) Des Aveugles: Considérations sur leur État Physique, Moral et Intellectuel avec un Exposé Complet des Moyens Propres à Améliorer leur Sort à l’aide de l’instruction et du Travail (Paris: Jules Renouard et cie.).

17. Dufau, P.A. (1833b) “Aveugles” in Encyclopédie des Gens du Monde, vol. 2 part 2 (Paris: Librairie de Trettel et Würtz), at p618. This article was paraphrased (without crediting Dufau) in Larousse, Pierre (1865) Grand dictionnaire universelle du XIXe siècle (Paris: Larousse & Boyer), p1066, and in subsequent editions of that vast work. 

18. Stuart, Graham (1833) Tour of the Wandering Piper through Part of Scotland and Ireland, Written by Himself in a Series of Letters, Addressed to G.M.F., Esq. County of Carlow, Ireland (Portland, Maine: Hall Jackson Little), p19. This passage is based on a very similar account which appeared in an article on the Wandering Piper in The Newry Commercial Telegraph, 17 June 1831, p4.

19. Partington, Wilfred (1932) Sir Walter’s Postbag: More stories and sidelights from his unpublished Letter-Books (London: John Murray), p298. 

20. Jim Blaney, Séamas Ó Bléine (1933-2014) was a teacher, musician and historian from Lurgan, Co. Armagh.

21. Newry Telegraph, 11 November 1834.

22. Advertisement, Newry Telegraph, 22 May 1835, p3.

23. Advertisement, “William Kennedy, the Blind Mechanic”, Saunders’s News-Letter, 15 June 1835, p3.

24. House of Commons (1835) Report from the Select Committee appointed to inquire into the Nature, Character, Extent and Tendency of Orange Lodges, Associations or Societies in Ireland; with the Minutes of Evidence and Appendix, 20 July 1835. The evidence given to the Committee by the Earl of Gosford mentions that at that time meetings of County Armagh Orange Lodges (of which no fewer than 29 had been registered in Tandragee, though some may have been dormant) were “generally held in public-houses”, given that “processions created thirst” and “where publicans have put up the sign of King William, they have found it answer their purposes pretty well”. The meetings were “always with an entertainment”, so it is tempting to imagine a local piper being pressed into service. At any rate, Kennedy would have been aware of a large Orange demonstration on his street on 24 July 1833, attended by Lady Mandeville, when an effigy of a Lurgan magistrate was burned to celebrate the release of several brethren who had been committed to prison after an illegal parade.

25. Anon. (1837) “L’Aveugle d’Armagh”, Le Magasin Pittoresque (Paris: Édouard Charton), Year 5, no. 12, pp94-95. We can confidently ascribe this piece to Émile Souvestre (1806-54), a successful Breton novelist and dramatist, as it subsequently appeared under his name in Italian translations: see below; and in Souvestre’s own 1859 compendium of moral tales, En Famille (Paris: Michel Lévy Frères), pp23-32. (Souvestre’s daughter, the lesbian feminist Marie Souvestre, later tutored the teenage Eleanor Roosevelt.)

26. Souvestre, Emilio (1846) “Il Cieco d’Armagh”, Letture di Famiglia: giornale settimanale di educazione morale, civile e religiosa (Turin: Stamperia Sociale), year 5 no. 51, 19 December, pp403-405. The article reappeared the following year in a similar magazine in Bologna, 300km away: Il Povero, Foglio Popolare (Bologna: Tipografia Bortolotti), year 49 no. 46, 18 December 1847, pp184-185. Further south, it appeared in a Neapolitan quarterly, L’Omnibus Pittoresco (Naples: Tip. Dell’ Omnibus), 9 December 1848, pp71-72, where the “Guglielmo Kennedy” of the previous translations becomes “Villiam”.

27. Souvestre, Émile (1859) “L’Aveugle d’Armagh” in Gasc, Ferdinand, Histoires Amusantes et Instructives; or, Selections of Complete Stories from the Best French Authors, Chiefly Contemporary, Who have Written for the Young (London: Bell & Daldy), pp108-113.

28. Although substantially the same as the Souvestre story, the attribution is different: Bassanville, Comtesse de (1859) “L’Aveugle d’Armagh”, L’Écho du Cabinet de Lecture Paroissiale de Montréal (Montreal), vol. 1 no. 7, pp111-112. This suggests that the source for the Canadian publishers was a book or magazine produced in France by Anaïs Lebrun (1802-84), who wrote extensively, mainly for young ladies, on etiquette and other matters under the pseudonym Comtesse de Bassanville. A likely source would be her weekly Le Dimanche des familles (1856-58). 

29. Anon. (1864) “L’Aveugle d’Armagh”, Morceaux Choisis d’Auteurs Faciles (Liège: Imprimerie Classique de J. Ledoux), pp147-152.

30. Anon. (1882) “The Blind Man of Armagh” in Donahoe’s Magazine: A Monthly Journal, “the cheapest Irish Catholic magazine in the world” (Boston: Thomas B. Noonan), vol. VIII, p 462-464. Here, as in the Italian and French versions, the idler’s name appears as Fitzel rather than Fitzell. Both spellings correspond to surnames extant in Ulster at the time, although Frizell was and is more common in County Armagh.

31. Barrau, Th.-H. (1848) “L’ouvrier aveugle” in Livre de Morale Pratique, ou Choix de Preceptes et de Beaux Exemples (Paris: Hachette) (pp124-126 in the 1865 edition, pp130-132 in the 1888 and 1901 eds.).  It also appeared in a children’s magazine: T.H.B. (1860), “L’ouvrier aveugle: historiette”, La Semaine des Enfants (Paris: Lahure), year 4 no. 180 (9 June), pp178-179.

32. Much of the 1808 text reappeared, with minor changes, in an anonymous 484-page compilation (1840), The Book of Notable Things: comprehending a Choice Variety of Rare, Curious and Important Receipts, Adapted to Domestic Purposes: Together with an Interesting Selection of Tales, Anecdotes, and Essays, replete with Wit, Humour, and Instruction (Glasgow: D. Mackenzie), pp305-306. A brief paraphrase, omitting the first-person account, appears in Kitto, John (1845) The Lost Senses: Series II: Blindness (London: Charles Knight & Co.), pp227-228. Yet another version, reworded but with no new information, is found in an article, “Blind Mechanics: Part I”, in a London penny magazine, The Leisure Hour, A Family Journal of Instruction and Recreation: 12 February 1857, vol. 6 no. 268, pp102-103. Another abridged version of the piece appears in a book compiled from a magazine launched by an Anglican clergyman in 1871, which quickly gained a large circulation throughout England: Bullock, Charles (1880) Home Words for Heart and Hearth (London: “Hand and Heart” Publishing Office), pp185-186. (Home Words, usually circulated as a supplement to parish magazines, continued publishing until 2009 when it merged with another Anglican magazine, The Sign.)

33. Artman, W. & Hall, L.V. (1864) Beauties and Achievements of the Blind (Auburn, New York: the authors), pp251-252.

34. Fourgeaud, Alexandre (1875) “L’aveugle irlandais”, Journal des Desmoiselles et Petit Courrier des Dames (Paris), 2nd semester no. 1 (16 October), pp141-143.

35. The first published version in Spanish appears in Barrau, Th.-H. (trans. Jesús Gonzalez) (2nd ed. 1876) “El Artesano Ciego” in Libro de Moral Práctica, o Selecta Colleción de Preceptos y Bellos Ejemplos (Nuevo León, Mexico), pp114-116. This appears to have been a pirated version as the official translation by César Coronado Guzmán, Libro de Moral Práctica, o Colleción de Preceptos y Buenos Ejemplos, was published by Hachette in Paris somewhat later, probably around 1879 (in the 6th ed., 1886, the Kennedy article “El operario ciego” is at pp128-131). Guzmán, the Colombian consul in St-Nazaire, was like Barrau a great advocate of primary education, and translated many Hachette textbooks for use in Latin America. While both translations are faithful to the French, there are interesting distinctions, such as the pirate version’s reference to bagpipes as cornemusas while the official version has zampoñas.

36. Anon. (1904) “El ciego de Armagh”, La Patria, Diario de la Mañana (Quito, Ecuador), year 2 series 2 no. 827 (24 December), p1. Text closely follows the 1837 French version. 

37. Anon. (1884) The Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio), 13 December, p11.

38. Anon. (1903) “Climbing Mont Blanc without Eyes”, The Ogden Standard (Ogden City, UT), year 33 no. 129 (30 May), p3.

39. An identical mention of the auction appeared some months later in an Australian newspaper: Anon. (1903) “Feats of the Blind: Notable Incidents”, The Horsham Times (Horsham, Victoria), no. 4,468 (24 July), p3.