Byrne, Patrick (c.1784–1863), harper, was born in Farney, Co. Monaghan, and was possibly the nephew or younger brother of harper Christopher Byrne (c.1775–1808). Blind from infancy, he was taught the harp by itinerant harpers from 1794 and by Arthur O'Neill (qv) at the Belfast Harp School (1808–13). He acquired a considerable local reputation and in 1821 was presented with a harp made by the Dublin harp-maker John Egan (fl. 1825). A wandering minstrel, playing in the traditional manner, he performed only at concerts and in the houses of the gentry, where he was welcomed for his musical skill, gentle manners, humour, and intelligence. He performed in cities throughout England and Scotland between 1825 and 1846, journeying to London in 1825 and Scotland in 1836. A photograph (the only one known of a traditionally trained Irish harper), taken in Edinburgh in 1843, shows him wearing his customary bardic dress (adopted by Byrne to please his patrons), playing his Egan harp with its thirty-seven pegs and thirty-two strings.
A sketch of Byrne is reproduced in the Illustrated London News, showing him as he appeared (1 April 1845) as the ‘last minstrel’ in the tableau vivant of the ‘Lay of the last minstrel’, which was performed at the second Waverley ball in the Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh, as a fund-raising enterprise to complete the Walter Scott monument. Around 1850 he performed before Queen Victoria at Balmoral. The last of the great school of Irish harpers, he played ‘The Coolin’, ‘Aileen Aroon’, the melodies of Turlough Carolan (qv), and various planxties. ‘Byrne's command of the harp was complete . . . His touch was singularly delicate, yet equally firm’ (O'Neill, 81). Returning to Ireland c.1846, he was minstrel to the Shirley family of Lough Fea, Co. Monaghan. He died 8 April 1863 of pneumonia in the Louth infirmary, Dundalk.