Scoil na gCláirseach–Festival of Early Irish Harp is the only event of its kind anywhere. 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 world of Ireland’s ancient and exquisite historical harp with concerts, lectures, workshops, masterclasses, intensive players’ sessions, and a field trip to museums to see surviving instruments. Festival Guests can attend any number of concerts, lectures, masterclasses and workshops. Festival Scholars participate in intensive players’ sessions each morning, in addition to the afternoon and evening programme.
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 modern harp which nows bears the name ‘Irish harp’. The Historical Harp Society of Ireland exists to promote the older instrument.
What will I learn as a Scholar?
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!