Fonds DBE-239678 - Derek Bell Collection

Derek Bell Collection. Derek Bell Be My Guest radio interview [sound recording] / Derek Bell Derek Bell Collection. Derek Bell on Radio 2 [sound recording] / Derek Bell Derek Bell Collection. Bela Fleck [sound recording] / Bela Fleck. Track 1 Derek Bell Collection. Bela Fleck [sound recording] / Bela Fleck. Track 2 Derek Bell Collection. Don't let your deal go down. Derek Bell mix [sound recording] / Derek Bell Collection. Chieftains Paloma monitor mixes [sound recording] /. Track 1 Derek Bell Collection. Chieftains Paloma monitor mixes [sound recording] /. Track 2 Derek Bell Collection. Chieftains Paloma monitor mixes [sound recording] /. Track 3 Derek Bell Collection. Derek Bell Memorial Concert Part 1 [sound recording] /

Identity area

Reference code



Derek Bell Collection


  • 1949 - 2007 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

11 boxes, 34 A3 binders

Context area

Name of creator


Biographical history

Derek Bell was born in Belfast on 21 October 1935. His father William Bell, was a banker, a traditional fiddle player and also played in an amateur orchestra. His mother died when Bell was very young. When Derek was two years old his parents received a misdiagnosis from a doctor that their son was going blind. In an effort to develop his sense of hearing Derek’s parents surrounded their young son with musical toys. This resulted in an early aptitude for music. Derek started piano lessons at the age of nine and within two years had composed his first piano concerto.

He was educated at Downey House Preparatory School, Cabin Hill and Campbell College in Belfast. At the age of sixteen he won a scholarship to study composition at London’s Royal College of Music where his teachers included Herbert Howells, Norman Greenwood and Lamar Crowson. During his time there he was awarded the Manns Prize for woodwind. He graduated from the Royal College of Music in 1957. He went on to study music at Trinity College Dublin where he graduated with a MusB in 1959. By now Bell played a number of instruments including piano, oboe, oboe d’amore, cor anglais and cimbalom or dulcimer. He continued to study in Europe and the United States with, among others, British oboist Léon Jean Goossens and Russian pianist Madame Rosina Lhévinne. He appeared as a soloist with many symphony orchestras in Berlin, Moscow, Budapest, Liverpool, Dublin and London and was oboist for four seasons with the American Symphony Orchestra in Pittsburgh.

In August 1957, Derek Bell became the manager of the Belfast Symphony Orchestra. It was only at this stage, in his late twenties, that he began to learn the harp. He made his living as chorus répéiteur and deputy chorus master of the Northern Ireland Radio and TV Orchestra, which he joined in 1965. His harp teachers included Sheila Larchet-Cuthbert in Dublin and Gwendolen Mason in London. Bell also travelled regularly throughout this career to Sea 5 Island, Georgia, United States of America to take lessons from harpist, Artiss de Volt. In 1965 he took up the position of principal harpist and second oboist at the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra. In 1970 he was appointed professor of concert and Irish harp at the Belfast Academy of Music.

Bell met the Irish music group, The Chieftains, in Belfast in 1972. The group were recording a television performance with the BBC orchestra. Bell made some guest appearances with the group after this initial meeting and in 1973 he recorded with them for the first time on their album Chieftains 4 . He officially joined the band in 1974, temporarily retaining his BBC post. By the late 1970s, The Chieftains had become an international attraction, helped by Stanley Kubrick's use of their music on the soundtrack of his film Barry Lyndon (1975). They toured extensively over the next thirty years in Europe, North America and the Far East. Bell's harp added extra colour to the mix of flute, uilleann pipes, fiddle, bodhrán and tin whistles. Bell contributed to more than thirty Chieftains’ albums and won six Grammy Awards with the group.

He maintained his career as a classical composer, writing two symphonies, three piano sonatas and numerous other compositions. He also continued to perform on piano, oboe, pedal harp and a variety of other instruments. He recorded eight solo albums including Carolan's receipt (1975); Carolan's favourite (1980); Derek Bell plays with himself (1981); Musical Ireland (1982); Ancient music for the Irish harp (1989); Mystic harp (1996); A Celtic evening with Derek Bell (1997) and Mystic harp II (1999). In 1999, Bell and Liam Ó Conchubhair published a book of Irish songs entitled Songs from the North of Ireland . Two documentaries called Derek Bell: one man band (1977) and Derek Bell’s concert party (1988) were made by producer/director Alan Tongue. Tongue used visual effects to have Bell playing together on Irish harp, concert harp, piano, tiompán, oboe, whistle, bodhrán and double bass.

Bell married his American born wife Stefanie Rees, who was also a harpist, in [1980?], she was originally from San Francisco. He was awarded an MBE by Queen Elizabeth II in 2000 for his contribution to traditional Irish and classical music. Bell died suddenly on 17 October 2002 in Phoenix, Arizona, after appearing in Nashville as part of The Chieftains’ fortieth anniversary celebrations.

Archival history

This fonds of music manuscripts, sound recordings, printed items, photographs, personal papers, artifacts, musical instruments etc. were compiled by the musician, Derek Bell during his lifetime. In September 2015, Lindsay Armstrong, one of Derek Bell's first pupils, approached the Irish Traditional Music Archive (ITMA) on behalf of Bell's widow, Stefanie Bell, to determine whether ITMA would be interested in the collection. A visit to Derek Bell's home in Bangor, Co Down to meet Stefanie Bell was organised. Two visits were made by ITMA staff to Bangor, one on 29 September 2015 and another on 6 October 2015. On both occasions materials relating to Irish traditional music, Bell's time with The Chieftains, and any material relating to the folk music of other countries were identified, packed up by ITMA staff and transported to Dublin. Stefanie Bell made further contact with ITMA in February 2016 and organised for 6 additional vinyl recordings from Derek Bell's collection to be delivered to ITMA on 20 February 2016. A final visit to Bangor was made on 21 April 2016 to collect relevant artefacts which ITMA had also agreed to take. The materials relating to classical music, mostly printed books, sound recordings and music manuscripts were donated by Stefanie Bell to the Dublin Institute of Technology in the same year.

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Content and structure area

Scope and content

This collection was created by Derek Bell during his lifetime. The majority of the papers and audio visual collection date from the late 1960s to the late 1990s. There are some papers relating to Bell's early music education in London's Royal College of Music and Trinity College Dublin but the vast majority of materials date from his professional music career. The papers cover Bell's time with the City of Belfast Orchestra and the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra. His international career as a solo musician, recording artist, composer and his long career with the Irish music group The Chieftains are very well documented in this collection. Derek Bell's interest in Irish music, ethnic music from Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and South America and classical harp music are also evident in the collection. His interest in the relationship between music, mysticism and meditation is reflected both in his papers and his audio visual collection. The first series contains personal papers which include: music papers relating to education, teaching and musical instruments; financial documents; religious papers relating to the guru Gideon Fontalba and the spiritual organisation the Self Realization Fellowship; papers relating to family history; and papers gathered by his widow Stefanie Bell after his death in 2002. Correspondence with family, friends, music publishers, music librarians, musicians and business related correspondence can be found in the second series of this collection. The third series contains papers collected by Bell during his time as a working musician both as a solo and orchestral artist and with The Chieftains. Included in this series are invitations from individuals and organisations to Bell to perform as well as rehearsal schedules, performance related ephemera, reviews, articles, promotional material, tour schedules and awards and certificates. The final two series in this collection contain photographs of Bell and The Chieftains and audio visual material. This material includes Bell's solo recordings as well as The Chieftains many albums. Also included in the audio collection are ethnic music recordings from around the world.

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling

Where multiple copies of items were found, two were retained, and the remainder were put aside to offer to the Dublin Institute of Technology for inclusion in their Bell collection.


System of arrangement

The Derek Bell Collection had no coherent arrangement on acquisition. It was decided to arrange the collection into the following seven series: audio visual collection; personal papers; correspondence; performance; recordings, compositions and publications; photographs and artwork; and music manuscripts.

Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access

Conditions governing reproduction

In copyright

Language of material

  • English

Script of material

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Finding aids

Allied materials area

Existence and location of originals

Existence and location of copies

Related units of description

Music manuscripts relating to this fonds are also held by ITMA.

Derek Bell's classical music collection is held at the Dublin Institute of Technology, Rathmines Library, Rathmines Road, Dublin 6.

See also Michael Tubridy manuscripts of The Chieftains music arrangements also held in ITMA.

Related descriptions

Notes area


This collection has not been fully catalogued to item level.

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Rules and/or conventions used

ISAD(G): General International Standard Archival Description. 2 nd ed. Ottawa: International Council on Archives, 2000.
Irish Guidelines for Archival Description. Ireland: Society of Archivists, 2009
Anglo-American cataloguing rules. 2nd ed., 1988 revision. Ottawa : Chicago: Canadian Library Association.


Level of detail


Dates of creation revision deletion


  • English



Glatt, John, The Chieftains: the authorized biography . London: Century, 1997.

Vallely, Fintan, ed. The companion to Irish traditional music . 2nd ed. Cork: Cork University Press, 2011.

White, Harry and Barra Boydell, eds The encyclopaedia of music in Ireland . Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 2013.

Archivist's note

Catalogue compiled by Maeve Gebruers

Accession area

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Physical storage

  • Shelf: Bay K. Shelf 1
  • Shelf: Bay K. Shelf 2