Irish Harps, old & new

A modern Irish harp at the current exhibition at Galway city museum, ‘Keepers of The Gael’, which continues until 30th January 2020. Image: Edward OLoghlen

Happy 2020 to all readers. We start the year with a classic story about quintessentially Irish music making. Text by Edward OLoghlen.

The Irish harp has been inscribed on the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. The designation recognises the instrument’s unique place in Irish music and cultural life.

It follows a campaign supported by musicians and members of the public alike. The new status designation will hopefully shine a spotlight on the Harp and encourage its use as a living instrument.

Cruit Éireann/Harp Ireland Chair Aibhlín McCrann welcomed the news, saying:

Due to the efforts of a passionate and committed group of harpers, the living tradition of Irish harping is now thriving, with a rich and vibrant diversity of harping taking place all over Ireland and overseas.

The number of harp students continues to rise, and Irish-made harps are in big demand.  Our third National Harp Day in October 2019, witnessed events take place the length and breadth of Ireland, as well as farther afield.

We are thrilled that Irish harping has gained the recognition it so richly deserves and that the harp clearly occupies pride of place at the heart of our national identity.

Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (Gaelic speaking areas) Josepha Madigan said:

Edward Bunting (1773-1843) who attended the Belfast Harp festival of 1792, later travelling widely through Ulster and Connacht, collecting music

I am delighted that Irish harping has received this international recognition, as it holds such a central place in Irish cultural heritage. The harp is Ireland’s national symbol and has been played in Ireland for more than one thousand years.

A famous festival of Harpists was held at Belfast city in 1792. Ulsterman, Edward Bunting attended that Belfast festival. Bunting (1773-1843) later published collected airs, manuscripts and various music traditions from 1796 onwards. His collections are now held at Queen’s University, Belfast.

Gaelic Harpists were highly skilled musicians who played  at the courts of Gaelic chiefs and Old English lords. Its soundbox was hollowed out of a solid piece of timber, and joined to a frame with mortise and tenon joints. No adhesive was required, as string tension alone held the frame together.

The Minister continued:

The 14th century instrument known as the  ‘Brian Ború’ harp, in Trinity College library, Dublin. (Detail; click pic to enlarge. Image: Brendan O’Loghlin)

“This recognition by UNESCO is a true tribute to the generation of harpers, who have ensured the transmission of Irish harp music for this and future generations”.

“I am also grateful to Cruit Éireann/Harp Ireland for their work with my Department to achieve this UNESCO recognition.”

February 2020 update:

An early Irish harp, which dates back to the 18th century has been examined by a team of scientists at the National Museum of Ireland, Collins Barracks in Dublin.
The scientists aim to find out exactly how the harp was made with a view to making replica instruments.


  • Thanks to Edward for this interesting report.
  • RTE News website –,
  • Galway City Museum, Trinity College, Dublin
  • UNESCO – United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation
  • Modern Harp (Galway City museum) – made by Natalie Surina, Ériú Harps
  • National Museum of Ireland

About BrendO

Musician in Canberra Australia
This entry was posted in Arts & Crafts, Ireland and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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