Origin and History of the Harp
The harp is the national symbol of Ireland and the Celtic harp appears on Irish Currency and is associated with popular Irish brands such as Guinness and Ryanair. The harp also features in many Irish Mythology stories. The most famous Irish harp was called Uaithne and belonged to the Dagda who was an important God in Irish Mythology. The Dagda was a protector of the people and legend tells us that his magical harp played itself! One of the most famous Irish harp players was Turlough O'Carolan who was blind. Born in Ireland in the 18th century, he was famous for playing the Harp but was also a composer and a singer. He is commonly known as Irelands national composer. The most popular Irish Harp is the folk harp, pictures of several of these beautiful instruments are shown on this page.
Harp Irish Symbol - Names
Edward Bunting (1773 - 1843) describes the following variations of the Irish Harp in his book 'The Ancient Music of Ireland' 1840:
Clarseach; - Common irish harp
Cinnard-Cruit; - High-headed irish harp
Crom-cruit; - Down-bending irish harp
Ceirnin - Portable irish harp which was used by the priests and religious people
Craiftin Cruit; - Craftin's irish harp
Lub - Poetical name of the irish harp
Harp Irish Symbol - Description
The harp is a multi-stringed instrument, the strings are made from a variety of materials including wire, silk, nylon or gut.
The plane of the harp's strings are positioned perpendicularly to its soundboard. Musically the harp is in the category of Chordophones (as are all stringed instruments) but it has its own sub category, Harps. All harps are made up of a neck, resonator and strings. Frame harps also have a pillar, Harps without a pillar are known as open harps. The harp can be played while held in the lap if it is small enough but more often the Harp stands on the floor and the harpist sits next to it on a small chair or stool to play the instrument.
Harp Irish Symbol - Images
The picture below on the left is from the Book 'In the Image of Ireland' 1581. The image shows a minstrel playing a large irish harp with his fingernails!
Harp Irish Symbol - Dalway Harp
The irish harp pictured below was made in 1621 for was made for John Fitzedmund Fitzgerald, Ballymaloe, County Cork. It is now stored at the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin and is referred to by many different names! It is known as the Fitzgerald Harp, named after the person it was made for. It then became known as the Dalway Harp as it was owned for a long period by the Dalway Family from County Antrim. It is now referred to as the Cloyne Harp.
Harp Irish Symbol - Kildare Harp
The Kildare Irish harp was believed to have been made in 1672 for Robert, the second son of George who was the sixteenth earl of Kildare and its decoration is early Jacobean. This harp has been preserved and is stored at Kilkea Castle.
Harp Irish Symbol - Castle Otway Harp
The Castle Otway Harp is pictured below. This harp has been preserved and is now kept at Trinity College, Dublin. It is believed that this harp was originally made for a wealthy person due to its ornate carving.
Harp Irish Symbol - Patrick Quin
The picture below is of the Irish harpist Patrick Quin who was teacher at the Dublin Harp Society and an excellent harp player and composer. Born in 1745 in Ireland, he was blind which was common amongst the best harpers! He lived in Portadown, County Armagh and was taught to play the harp by Patrick Linden who was a very distinguished harpist and poet.
Facts about the Harp Irish Symbol
The Harp is the National Symbol of Ireland
The Government of Ireland have Trademarked the Harp Symbol
Several Irish companies use the Harp symbol in their logo. Guinness use the Harp as their corporate logo. Ryanair also use a harp as part of their company logo.
Queen Elizabeth I of England banned harps and harpists. Harps were burned and harpists executed as travelling harpists were thought to be a focal point in causing rebellion amongst the Irish people!
In the 17th and 18th centuries, it was extremely common for harp players to be blind. It's thought they had more patience to learn this difficult instrument, unlike today the blind people had limited job prospects so many were encouraged to learn to play this amazing but difficult instrument
It was a very difficult instrument to learn to play and it took many years to master
Harp music was often played to accompany 'bards' reciting poetry. The Celtic Triangular Harp was known as the instrument of the Bards!
The Harp was associated with the more affluent Irish whereas the accordion was played more by the lower classes
Harps are often symbolically associated with Christianity. Many paintings depict Angels and Saints playing harps
The Folk Harp is traditionally associated with Ireland
Henry VIII of England was believed to be a great lover of Irish harp music and when he took control of Ireland he had a harp embossed on the currency
The Harp - Poem
The Harp that Once Through Tara’s Halls
The Harp that once through Tara’s halls
The soul of music shed,
Now hangs as mute on Tara’s walls
As if that soul were fled. So sleeps the pride of former days,
So glory’s thrill is o’er,
And hearts, that once beat high for praise,
Now feel that pulse no more.
No more to chiefs and ladies bright
The harp of Tara swells:
The chord alone, that breaks at night,
Its tale of ruin tells. Thus Freedom now so seldom wakes,
The only throb she gives,
Is when some heart indignant breaks,
To show that still she lives.