September 29th 2021

Scoil na gCláirseach–Festival of Early Irish Harp 2021

Assistant Director's Report

The Historical Harp Society of Ireland’s 2021 Scoil na gCláirseach–Festival of Early Irish Harp took place online, 25–29 July. This was a year of ‘firsts’ for the festival:

  • The first held online, with 34 live-streamed interactive events, the premier of 3 pre-recorded concerts and 5 pre-recorded talks, plus one-to-one virtual coaching.
  • The first collaboration with the Somerset Folk Harp Festival in the United States, producing our largest attendance ever. We welcomed 63 attendees to the full festival, plus 14 single-day attendees through Somerset Folk Harp Festival, and 17 ‘taster-ticket’ attendees who had access to two concerts and one talk. Festival participants joined us from within Ireland and around the world, representing 11 countries spanning 18 time zones! People joined us simultaneously at 6.00 am on the west coast of the United States, and at 10.00 pm in Japan.
  • The first year we awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award: to Ann Heymann in recognition of her years of trailblazing work spearheading the modern revival of the early Irish harp.

Players’ Session with Sylvia Crawford

All festival events were presented through our new festival website, designed by Jason Cooke Karve, co. Waterford. Richard Begley Events provided tech. support for our live events. All live events were recorded, and are accessible for ticket-holders to view until year end along with the pre-recorded concerts and talks.

We are delighted to report that our first online festival was a great success. Feedback from session surveys was overwhelmingly positive, with 85% of responses rating the content of the festival ‘very high quality’ and an additional 13% rating it ‘high quality’.

Talk to an Irish Music Master
2.00–3.00 p.m. daily

These relaxed, interview-style sessions with Pádraic Keane, pipes; Ciarán Ó Gealbháin, sean-nós song; and Breda Keville, fiddle, allowed festivalgoers to talk to a recognised master in the living Irish tradition, to question them about their background, training, influences, style, and opinions on what is important in performing traditional music well. Contact with their deep, embedded knowledge, and ingrained style, as living Irish music masters, adds to our festival’s Historically Informed Performance approach. These masters provided fascinating, inspiring insights, and demonstrated with scintillating performances of the music closest to their hearts. 

Lifetime Achievement Award
Mon 26.07.21 

Our HHSI Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, Ann Heymann, delighted us with anecdotes and insights into her trailblazing work to revive the early Irish harp. Ann’s students, friends, colleagues, and family joined in this special event to express their congratulations and gratitude for her many years of superlative, dedicated work. 

Online Tea Rooms
3.00–3.30 and 4.45–5.15 daily

To encourage interaction and build community, we hosted live online ‘tea break’ rooms between festival events. These were very popular, as attendees grabbed a ‘cuppa’ and chatted with new friends and old, often delving deeper into music and topics encountered during the festival.

Players’ Sessions
3.30–4.45 daily

Four live hands-on sessions ran simultaneously each day:

Sylvia Crawford offered sessions for players new to early Irish harp, as well as those wanting to refresh and update their technique, drawing on her in-depth study of the first tunes traditionally taught by the eighteenth-century harpers, and presented in her new book.

  • Eibhlís Ní Ríordáin worked on 17th- and 18th-century harp songs.
  • Siobhán Armstrong taught 18th-century repertoire, incorporating significant discoveries made in the course of her recent PhD research.
  • James Ruff presented 17th- and 18th-century Scottish vocal and instrumental repertoire.
  • Making her Scoil debut, Carolin Margraf presented on performance-practice approaches to medieval Irish plainchant melodies, and medieval modes.
  • Andrew Lawrence-King worked with players on historically informed rhythm and emotion as they relate to the music and time period of Carolan.

All of these sessions represented cutting-edge research, and were very well received by participants who, because all of the sessions were recorded, can go back multiple times as they practice the music and techniques presented in each.

Ann Heymann HHSI Lifetime Achievement Award event

5.15–6.15 daily

Two workshops were presented simultaneously on days 1–4 of the festival, with a single workshop on day 5. These in-depth, interactive sessions offered a wide range of topics, including historical repertoire, performance practice, modes, and making replicas of historical instruments. A particular highlight was Siobhán Armstrong’s workshop on Carolan’s performing style, in which she shared her discoveries about Carolan’s idiom, unearthed in the course of her recent PhD studies. On day five of the festival, Dr Karen Loomis and Simon Chadwick presented a virtual ‘field trip’ to the collection of historical Irish harps at the National Museum of Ireland, illustrated with 3D scans, detailed photography, and extensive information from their research.

End-of-day Social Get Together                     
6.15–6.45 daily

Each day wrapped up in a relaxed online room where attendees and presenters socialised and talked about the festival events of the day. These ‘get togethers’, and the tea breaks during the day, were a popular way to engage in casual chat, and sparked many lively and fun discussions during the festival.

Talks and Concerts                                       

Five pre-recorded talks were given by experts in the field — from introductory presentations to the latest cutting-edge research. 

  • Dr Karen Loomis gave an overview of the early Irish harp and why it was important in Gaelic society.
  • Simon Chadwick introduced us to old Irish and Scottish harp traditions.
  • Siobhán Armstrong presented two talks — one exploring recreating the music of the old Irish harpers and a second talk about historical Irish-harp melodic accompaniment, delving into important discoveries stemming from her PhD research.
  • Sylvia Crawford gave a presentation on her latest research into historical Irish harp fingering.

Three concerts were recorded for the festival, two at the beautiful Chapter House of Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Kilkenny, with film and sound recording by Staunton Media: A Celebration of Carolan’s 350th Birthday, featuring harpist and singer Eibhlís Ní Ríordáin, and piper Pádraic Keane; and Master Soloists of Irish Music, featuring harpist Siobhán Armstrong, singer Ciarán Ó Gealbháin, and fiddler Breda Keville. A third concert, Carolan’s Travels: Gaelic Heritage & Baroque Influences, featuring harpist Andrew Lawrence-King, was recorded in Tallinn, Estonia.

Virtual Coaching                                            
individually scheduled

Individual virtual coaching sessions were available during the festival. Eight international tutors were available to attendees who could choose with whom they wanted one-to-ones, and what general or specific area they wanted to work on. 

Eibhlís Ní Ríordáin: A Celebration of Carolan’s 350th Birthday — concert recording session, Saint Mary’s Cathedral chapter house, Kilkenny City

Breda Keville, Ciarán Ó Gealbháin, and Siobhán Armstrong: Master Soloists of Irish Music — concert recording session, Saint Mary’s Cathedral chapter house, Kilkenny City



Our festival wouldn’t have been possible without the dedicated people, and funders, who helped make it happen. We would like to thank our principal funder

An Comhairle Ealaíon (The Arts Council of Ireland)

and also Culture Ireland, Kilkenny County Council Arts Office and Cruit Éireann / Harp Ireland for their kind support.

Particular thanks also to Kathy DeAngelo for inviting us to collaborate with Somerset Folk Harp Festival, and for her inspiration and guidance over the past year; to Fr. Richard Scriven, and John O’Neill, for facilitating the concerts’ recording; Jason Cooke and Mark Fallon, for designing our lovely new festival website; and Richard Begley Events, for providing tech. support for the live festival.

We would also like to thank our Scoil 2021 performers, speakers and tutors who shared their knowledge and experience, and brought rare and neglected music so beautifully to life for us.


Best wishes,

Dr Karen Loomis

Assistant Director, Scoil na gCláirseach–Festival of Early Irish Harp


2021 Artists:

2021 Live events:

2021 Pre-recorded events:

2021 One-to-one virtual coaches:


Join us in Kilkenny for our first blended festival
— in person AND live online ­—

23–29 July 2022