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, and intensive one-to-one virtual coaching with some of the world’s experts in the field.
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.
This harp is also called ‘cláirseach’, ‘clarsach’, ‘Gaelic harp’, ‘old Irish harp’ and ‘wire-strung harp’.
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 team includes Siobhán Armstrong (IRL), Simon Chadwick (N IRL), Sylvia Crawford (N IRL), Ann Heymann (USA), Eibhlís Ní Ríordáin (IRL), James Ruff (USA) and Bill Taylor (SCOT). Read more about our artists here.
What can I hear at it?
Talks, lectures and workshops about all aspects of the traditions, history and performance practice of the early Irish harp.
What can I learn as an active participant?
In virtual coaching sessions, 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 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 to atttend our virtual events. Sadly, this year, because our festival is virtual, we will not be able to actually hand you a harp and get you started. .
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call
+353 (0)86 8623430 Monday to Friday 10.00a.m. to 7.00 p.m.
Wir sprechen gerne deutsch.
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. This year’s video concert series is generously supported by Cruit Éireann / Harp Ireland.