December 16th 2023

Looking back at our 2023 summer festival

Participants from around the world joined us for our 21st Scoil na gCláirseach–Festival of Early Irish Harp

2023 festival group photo with many of the in-person and online All-Access participants and artists

Participants from around the world joined us, in Kilkenny, for our 21st Scoil na gCláirseach–Festival of Early Irish Harp, 7–13 July, 2023. As ever, we held our daytime events at Coláiste Pobail Osraí secondary school, with our evening concerts taking place at the beautiful Parade Tower at Kilkenny Castle. On our final day, we once again travelled to Dublin on our annual field trip to see examine historic Irish harps in public and private collections.

This was our second hybrid festival—in-person in Kilkenny, and Zoomed live online around the world—and our most successful ever. Apart from our local, regional, national, and international attendees at our evening concerts, we had 48 All-Access attendees each day, a 50% increase on 2022! These were divided evenly between in-person participants, and those who joined us live online from the west coast of North America, through Ireland, Britain and continental Europe, all the way to Japan.

Our two concerts at Kilkenny Castle’s medieval Parade Tower were beautifully performed by some of the world’s finest historical, and traditional, musicians from Ireland and abroad. Both concerts sold out (also a first for us), and performers in the final concert received a standing ovation from the delighted audience.

Festival concert at The Parade Tower, Kilkenny Castle, 11 July 2023

Festival workshop led by Sylvia Crawford

Bringing new audiences to Scoil na gCláirseach was fundamental to our success this year. I would like to thank the Assistant Director, Dr Karen Loomis, for her 2023 HHSI work with her brain-child: Acadamh na gCláirseach–Academy of Early Irish Harp ONLINE. This recent year-round initiative has contributed significantly to raising our Scoil participant numbers. I would also like to thank Linda Coogan Byrne of Good Seed PR for working with us to publicise the festival concerts locally and nationally; Maura Uí Chróinín for designing the eye-catching concert posters; and our Kilkenny posterers—Alex Reynolds and Nicola Harding—all of whom contributed to our selling out both concerts for the first time.

Following on the success of our first hybrid festival in 2022, we committed to continuing, and honing, this format so that those of us in our community who can’t make it to Kilkenny each summer can nonetheless always be with us, and so that new festival participants from around the world can join us fairly effortlessly. This year, Richard Begley, who provides technical support for HHSI online events throughout the year, joined us onsite for in-person audio-visual and internet support. Richard's tireless work and excellent technical skills kept all of our live-streamed events running smoothly. Thanks to 2021 Arts Council Capacity Building funding, we now have cameras, mics and other paraphernalia that enable us to stream our events. We are also greatly helped by the COVID-necessitated upgrade in audio-visual capability in each classroom at our daytime venue: this allows us to see and hear our online participants loud and clear on the huge TV monitors.

Our presenters, some of whom are also tutors for our online courses throughout the year, have become experts at interacting with both in-person and online participants in each session. And of course we record everything so all participants can access all events until the end of the year. So, in reality, it’s a nearly six-month festival! 

Most importantly, we would especially like to thank our festival participants, without whom we would not have a festival. Together, we have created a warm and supportive community where we can all immerse ourselves in the world of early Irish harp music, traditions, history, and the latest scholarship in the field, and present the results to audiences in Kilkenny, and around the world. 

The HHSI is also immensely grateful to its funding bodies and supporters, without whose generous support our work to rediscover the early Irish harp, and its traditions, would not be possible.


Scoil na gCláirseach–Festival of Early Irish Harp is kindly funded by An Chomhairle Ealaíon [The Arts Council], Kilkenny County Council, and Harp Ireland. Our student rental harp collection has been funded by The Music Capital Scheme, supported by The Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, managed by Music Network.


Dr Siobhán Armstrong

15 December 2023