The Irish Harp
The Harp that once through Tara's halls
The story of the Irish harp is the story of the Irish people. This ancient folk instrument with its beautiful, delicate sound is played today despite being ignored, derided and proscribed for centuries.
Harpers, who in earlier days would have been hanged for their art, now flourish throughout the world, as do the Irish themselves.
Emblems of Ireland
The Harp that once through Tara's Halls
The Harp that once through Tara's halls
The soul of music shed,
Now hangs as mute on Tara's walls
As if that soul were fled.
So sleeps the pride of former days,
So glory's thrill is o'er,
And hearts, that once beat high for praise,
Now feel that pulse no more.
No more to chiefs and ladies bright
The harp of Tara swells:
The chord alone, that breaks at night,
Its tale of ruin tells.
Thus Freedom now so seldom wakes,
The only throb she gives,
Is when some heart indignant breaks,
To show that still she lives.
Thomas Moore (1779-1852)
The first Harp
Legend tells us the first harp was owned by Dagda, the Good God a chief among the Tuatha De Danaan.
At one time during a war with the Fomorians, the gods of cold and darkness, his harp was stolen but later recovered by Lugh and Ogma. When it was returned it had aquired two secret names and the ability to call forth summer and winter.
From then on, when Dagda played, he could produce a melody so poignant, it would make his audience weep, he could play an air so jubilant it would make everyone smile, or bring forth a sound so tranquil, it would lull all who listened to sleep.
Thus did the harp became the dispenser of Sorrow, Gladness and Rest.
Harper Declan Hegarty
The harp isn't peculiar to Ireland but subsequently became its national emblem.
Harpers were highly trained professionals who performed for the nobility and enjoyed political power - so much so that during the 16th century, Queen Elizabeth I issued a proclamation to hang Irish harpists and destroy their instruments to prevent insurrection.
Harper Mark Harmer
Harps are played throughout much of the world. From ancient artworks, epic tales and poetry, we learn of harps in Babylonia and Mesopotamia. We see them in the tomb of Pharaoh Ramses III, votive carvings from Iraq and sculptures of ancient Greece.
From Africa, which has more than 100 harp traditions, the instrument travelled north to Spain and soon spread throughout Europe. Strung with sinew, silk or wire, harps vary in size, structure and decoration according to the physical and technological environments of their origins.
Harps are made in many a form. African harps have been made from wood and gourd covered with cowhide, the Burmese sang auk has an arched soundbox similar to the Turkish ceng while European harps feature a triangular frame,
But they all have one common feature that all harps share: the strings run vertical (rather than parallel) to the sound box.
Harper Sarah Deere-Jones
Sarah Marie Mullen
The Irish Harp on MP3
I just love the whole idea of MP3s.
They're easy to get, cheap enough for anyone, and I really appreciate the ability to get a handful of tracks. I play my MP3s when I set off walking and it's like being in another world.
Here's a small selection of my favourite music played on the Irish Harp
Surviving Celtic Harps
Irish Harps were quite different from the large pedal harps we see in modern symphony orchestras.
They were much smaller, and originally held on the Harper's lap. The harp was balanced by leaning against the left shoulder, and had no pedals. These early harps were usually carved in one piece from bog wood.
The Trinity College Harp and Queen Mary's Harp are the oldest surviving Celtic harps and both date from the 15th or 16th centuries and illustrate the similarity between the Irish and Scottish harps.
The Trinity College harp (also known as Brian Boru's Harp) is currently displayed in the long room at Trinity College Dublin.
Queen Mary's Harp (pictured) is dated to the 15th Century and on display in the Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh.
A distinguishing characteristic of these Gaelic harps was that they were wire-strung, rather than gut strung.
The word "harp" itself has its roots in the Anglo-Saxon, Old German and Old Norse words which mean "to pluck." In Gaelic they were known first as cruit and later as clarsach or clairseach.
Whatever you call them, they're beautiful.
I want to play the Uilleann Pipes
I have a near fatal obsession with pipes. I love all the pipes (and all the drums), the Great Irish Warpipes, the Scots lowland pipes and the Great Highland Bagpipes, the Breton Veuze, the Galician Gaita and the Italian Zampogna. But the most beautiful, th...
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