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.
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 will I learn as a 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.
How does it work and what is on offer?
Our 2019 daily timetable will be somewhat different to previous years. We will, for example, be giving participants freedom to attend whichever of the morning players' sessions that suit their individual wishes each day. We are also excited by other changes to this year's format and we trust that you will enjoy – and be inspired by – the new flexibility of the 2019 timetable.
DAILY TIMETABLE [Thurs. – Mon. inc.]
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. You can also experience two active-listening classes to learn from the earliest archive recordings of relevant musicians from Ireland and Scotland.
11.00–12.30 GROUP CLASSES
Beginners are given their own dedicated class. All others can choose from at least three different topic choices, day by day, led by different staff tutors.
View the week's class subjects here (pdf)
1.30–3.00 PRIVATE TUITION
Afternoon tuition is being offered on an individual basis for the very first time. You can choose which tutor you study with, and what general or specific area you wish to work on. During the festival you can have
- two 45-min. sessions one-to-one OR
- four 45-min. sessions shared with one other student OR
- six 45-min. sessions shared with two other students
See a PDF of the areas of interest and expertise of each tutor here.
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.
If you choose to share, you can either choose a specific person to share your class with; or you can indicate a general willingness to share on a specific topic, and we will try to match you with another student also wanting to study that topic at a similar level.
Once you have booked your place by paying your deposit, we will be in touch with you to schedule your tuition choices for each day of the festival.
1.30–3.00 STUDENT PEER-PERFORMANCE SESSIONS
When you are not having afternoon tuition, you can attend a parallel stream of peer-performance sessions. One of the things our students tell us is that a lack of experience in playing their music in front of others holds them back; that nerves often get the better of them when they do so. These new sessions have emerged from the valuable experience of our Student Platforms of previous years. They provide you with safe space each day to try to work past any nervousness. You will experience a light-hearted, super-supportive environment within a community of your peers to help you build more resilience and courage into your music-making. All students can contribute: from raw beginners who can perhaps strike only note or two, all the way to the ‘professional but still nervous! : - )
1.30–3.00 PRACTICE TIME
Tuition and Student Peer-Performance Sessions run in parallel with each other and also with dedicated Practice Time. So each day, 1.30 to 3.00, you can either be receiving tuition, playing for your peers or practising for yourself, if you wish.
Each festival afternoon offers two levels of workshops (general / more advanced) or a combined workshop suitable for all levels.
On Thursday, Friday and Sunday, we finish at our daytime venue, Coláiste Pobail Ósraí, at 4.30. We move to the centre of Kilkenny for our evening events at the Medieval Mile Museum:
Three public talks precede each of the three concerts at the Medieval Mile Museum.
At the Medieval Mile Museum. N.B. Concert tickets are sold only by the Medieval Mile Museum box-office.
HARP-MAKERS DAY [Sat. 14 August]
We have put together this day specifically with harp builders in mind: to create a new opportunity for exchange and discussion between builders of all levels, organologists and players. The day will feature an instrument exhibition, an afternoon workshop and a virtual lecture.
See the day-by-day timetable 2019 for full Scoil participants for full details of all events. Please get in touch to discuss your individual requirements and we will fit you into the schedule for the week in a way that suits your needs best.
See the festival programme 2019 with additional information on the public events.
Scoil na gCláirseach is only possible because of 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.