Scoil na gCláirseach–Festival of Early Irish Harp is the only event of its kind in Ireland. It exists to help fill the enormous cultural gap left by the disappearance of the early Irish harp two centuries ago. Come and join participants from Ireland, and around the world, to immerse yourself in the Gaelic world’s ancient and exquisite historical harp with concerts, lectures, workshops, intensive players’ sessions, and a field trip to museums to see surviving instruments.
What is an early Irish harp?
The early Irish harp – wire-strung, with a melting, bell-like resonance – was the illustrious zenith of medieval Gaelic music culture, played in Ireland, and also in the Scottish Highlands & Islands, from the early Middle Ages until the years just after 1800, when it died out. By the early sixteenth century, the early Irish harp came to symbolise Ireland itself, and is still depicted in the national emblem. It has been eclipsed by the more modern instrument which nows bears the name ‘Irish harp’. The Historical Harp Society of Ireland exists to promote the older instrument.
What is this festival all about?
We explore the historical performance practice, traditions and history of the early Irish harp, from the Middle Ages until the early nineteenth century using the earliest manuscript sources and copies of the original instruments. We want to share the rediscovery of this ancient, iconic instrument and to inspire as many people as possible to listen, learn, play and sing its music, imagining the medieval halls of the Gaelic Chieftains to the Great Irish Houses of the eighteenth century, in which the instrument was equally at home alongside harpsichords, baroque violins, flutes and Irish pipes.
Who are the tutors and artists?
Our in-house tutors, lecturers and artists are at the forefront of the field internationally, driving the rediscovery of the ancient harp of Ireland and the Scottish Highlands. In 2020, our all-Ireland team includes Siobhán Armstrong, Simon Chadwick, Sylvia Crawford and Eibhlís Ní Ríordáin. We also host guest scholars and artists each year with a range of expertise parallel to the harpers, in the fields of historical piping and singing.
What can I hear at it?
In 2020, we will associate with Kilkenny’s Medieval Mile Museum once more to present two festival concerts of the best of Irish traditional – and European early-music – performers, in the impressive, thirteenth-century St. Mary’s church.
What can I learn as an active participant?
We will equip you with the skills you need to source, reconstruct and play the historical music of the early Irish harp: song airs, laments, marches, music composed for patrons, older dances e.g. minuets & jigs etc. and 16th- to 18th-century ‘foreign’ repertoire.
We will explore with you the repertoire of Turlough Carolan, Ruaidhrí Dall Ó Catháin, Arthur O’Neill and many others, through surviving hand-written, historic manuscripts and early printed sources, which we will help you to understand and use so that you can discover as much as possible about the old harpers’ performance traditions.
You will have a chance to learn the historical playing techniques gleaned from the old harpers at the end of the eighteenth century, just before the tradition died out, and will use these to perform the music and to add characteristic ornamentation.
You will have a unique opportunity to try out wonderful, measured copies of six different kinds of historical Irish harps, from medieval harps to eighteenth-century instruments.
You will be immersed in a week, not only of intensive players’ sessions and concerts, but also cutting-edge talks, lectures and workshops, which strive to help you put historical, cultural and aesthetic context around the music.
We hope to get you a little closer to the world of the old Irish harpers once more, whilst acknowledging humbly that we can’t ever be sure that we’re getting it completely right!
I am a complete beginner. Can I come along?
We warmly welcome beginners. Anyone who is new to the harp does not need to worry about deciding what to study, or about playing in front of other students in the peer performance sessions: beginners will be grouped together in a dedicated class and rental harps are available. Beginners also have dedicated practice time each day and can sit in on – or take part in – the student peer performance sessions as they wish.
Topping off this unique week, we offer an optional private tour around Dublin to see many of the historic Irish harps which were once owned and played by Ireland’s early harpers. Most of these instruments are not on public display so this is a rare opportunity to examine them.
TIMETABLE for FULL PARTICIPANTS
9.30–10.30 TRADITION BEARERS, PAST & PRESENT
We start each day by listening to – and talking with – a chosen ‘tradition bearer’: someone who embodies the best of traditional Irish music performance practice, often coming from a family with generations of music-making behind them. These artists exhibit rare and authentic styles of music-making within Gaelic traditions, which you can access each morning of the festival, to inform your own music-making. At some of these sessions, we also listen to archive recordings of relevant musicians from Ireland and Scotland. The first morning will be an overview session, setting out why we do this listening and what we hope to gain from it.
11.00–12.30 GROUP CLASSES
These sessions are divided by interest and ability between our tutors. View the 2019 week’s class subjects here (pdf) (2020 class subjects will be posted in spring 2020). On the Saturday, these sessions continue for another hour after lunch, allowing a more in-depth exploration of the subject being explored.
Interactive workshops and talks take place Thursday to Monday. The Saturday workshop slot is divided into two workshops: one for a general audience and one for those with more experience who wish to explore deeper.
A public ‘Discovery’ workshop takes place 3.30-4.30 on Sunday afternoon. Scoil full participants are invited to sit in on – or assist with – this.
3.30–5.45 INDIVIDUAL COACHING
Individual coaching sessions are available Thursday to Saturday inclusive. You choose which tutor you would like to study with and what general or specific area you wish to work on. €50 per hour; needs to be booked in advance.
See a PDF of the areas of interest and expertise of each 2019 tutor here. (2020 tutor areas will be available in spring 2020.)
All choices are subject to availability. There is a limited number of appointments with each tutor. As other participants make their choices, your own will become more limited. We suggest that you book early to give yourself the widest range of options.
Once you have booked your place by paying your deposit, we will be in touch with you to schedule any individual coaching choices you have.
FESTIVAL EVENING EVENTS
On Thursday and Saturday, we move to our evening venue: the Medieval Mile Museum:
A public festival talk precedes each of the two public festival concerts. Ticketed but FREE admission.
Public festival concerts on Thursday and Saturday. €20 / €15 Tickets: museum box office and at the door
See the day-by-day 2020 timetable for full Scoil participants for full details of all events. Please get in touch to discuss your individual requirements and we will accommodate you in the festival schedule in a way that best suits your needs.
See the festival 2020 festival programme for additional information on the public events.
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call
+353 (0)86 8623430 Monday to Friday 10.00a.m. to 7.00 p.m.
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On parle Francais aussi.
Scoil na gCláirseach–Festival of Early Irish Harp is made possible with funding from An Chomhairle Ealaíon (The Arts Council) and Kilkenny County Council. Our wonderful bank of HHSI Student harps has been funded by The Music Capital Scheme, supported by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and managed by Music Network.