Historical Harp Society of Ireland

Who doesn’t want to hear the sound of the medieval Brian Boru harp? Or who wouldn’t like to know what Turlough Carolan’s music might have sounded like on the kind of harp he played?

Replica of the Queen Mary harp The Historical Harp Society of Ireland was founded in 2002 to support a revival of the largely forgotten medieval musical instrument, which has one thousand years of illustrious history and tradition behind it and which is still depicted in the national emblem: the early Irish harp.

The Society promotes the rigorous study of – and historically informed performance of – the instrument and its music, which lies at the core of Irish music traditions, using measured copies of the surviving historic Irish harps housed in museum and private collections.

The early Irish harp was the instrumental pinnacle of courtly music in Ireland from before the year 1000 up to the period shortly after 1800, when it died out. With a resonating chamber usually carved from a single log – traditionally willow – and strung with wires of brass, silver or perhaps even gold, whose resonating strings were selectively damped, the extraordinary sweetness of this instrument was described in glowing terms by early writers.

It was replaced in the 19th century by a newly invented instrument, which now bears the name ‘Irish harp’. The more modern Irish harp’s construction, stringing and playing technique is derived from the late 18th century European pedal harp and is therefore very different to the original medieval, diatonic Irish instrument.

The Society wishes to create, and expand, awareness of the earlier Irish harp, and to revive it, by encouraging an HIP (historically informed performance) approach, the building of new instruments, and by fostering multidisciplinary academic study of the instrument, and its repertoire, by the following means:

  • An international information service for the public, museums, educational institutions, and the media.
  • The first modern year-round national tuition programme in Ireland for adults and children, with outreach to other countries by means of online tuition.
  • The first ever range of excellent student harps for sale, based on accurate measurements from surviving historic harps.
  • The first ever Student Harp Rental Bank of the above instruments, rented at a reasonable rate per month to students taking lessons.
  • Illustrated talks and Taster Day workshops for beginners.
  • The first ever international annual summer school for the instrument: Scoil na gCláirseach – Summer School of early Irish Harp, each August in Kilkenny with contributions from cutting-edge Irish, and international, scholars and performers.
  • An annual national HHSI Summer Concert Series involving singers of historical repertoire and performers on contemporaneous historical instruments.
  • The first ever reference and lending library of books, CDs and ephemera to do with historical harps, early Irish history and culture.
  • Promotion of the building of early Irish harps by supporting and guiding interested instrument makers, particularly in Ireland.
  • An online shop for harps, accessories and recordings.

    Read more about the early Irish harp at earlygaelicharp.info and at wirestrungharp.com