Cormac Ó Ceallaigh

I don’t know of any historical information about Cormac Ó Ceallaigh the harpmaker. Perhaps that’s not surprising for a Catholic at the times of the penal laws, living and working in a wooded valley up in the mountains, and working in an old oral tradition.

But there is a fair amount of traditionary information referring to him. By its nature this information may be wrong, but I thought I could try lining up what I have found so far, to collate all the different information, look for patterns, and maybe get ideas for future research or clues for other places to look.

Seán Donnelly wrote a section of an article about Cormac’s life and works (Seán Donnelly, ‘An Eighteenth Century Harp Medley’, in Ceol na hÉireann vol 1 issue 1, 1993, p.14-16). Michael Billinge has been collating information about Cormac’s harpmaking activities, and I have referred to some of their references, but I am also looking for information about Cormac’s wider social and historical context as well.

Cormac Ó Ceallaigh is known as a harpmaker, and his name is inscribed on two extant old Irish harps plus one lost instrument. The extant harps are the Downhill harp in the Guinness Storehouse Museum in Dublin, and the Castle Otway harp in Trinity College Dublin. The lost example is the Magenis harp, known from a 19th century description and painting.

The name is spelt differently on the inscriptions. The Downhill harp has the famous poem inscribed on the soundbox, and the makers name is written “CR KELY” with the date “17 HVNDRED AND 02”. The Otway harp has its inscription running down the inside of the forepillar, and the name is written “CORMICKOKELLY” and the date “1707”. The Magenis harp soundbox inscription reportedly has the name “CORMICK O / KELLY” broken over two lines, and the date “1711”.

We cannot assume that these inscriptions were all genuinely put there by Cormac when he made each harp; they may have been added later to give a false provenance to an older or younger instrument. All three give an English form of the name; the poem on the Downhill harp which contains the name and date is all in English. The Magenis inscription is in English and Latin. Diarmaid Ó Catháin has pointed out that this is perhaps surprising, and that we might expect Cormac Ó Kelly to have used Irish. Does this tell us something about the customers who ordered or commissioned these harps? Was English even in this context seen as more high-status and more suitable for a display inscription by 1700? Or is it an indication that the inscriptions are all later spurious additions?

The earliest securely dated reference to Cormac I have found so far is in the description of Denis O’Hampsey written by Rev. Sampson and published in 1806 in The Wild Irish Girl. Sampson includes a description of the Downhill harp, and as Mike Billinge points out, mis-quotes the harpmaker’s name “Cormac Kelly”, suggesting that the name came from tradition rather than from reading the inscription.

Places

In a footnote on p.24 of the introduction to Edward Bunting’s 1809 Collection, is the following information, which is assumed to refer to the Castle Otway harp:

A Harp made by Cormac O’Kelly, of Ballynascreen, in the county of Londonderry, about the year 1700…

I think this is the earliest information connecting Cormac to Ballinascreen. In his 1840 book, Edward Bunting mentions Ballinascreen as “a district long famous for the construction of such instruments, and for the preservation of ancient Irish melodies in their original purity” (p.77). However, Bunting may be over-egging things here, since he also says that the harp, illustrated by Walker (1786) and said by Walker (p.163) to be inscribed “Made by John Kelly 1726”, was “made by Kelly, of Ballynascreen in 1726” (p.77). Was Bunting reporting genuine traditionary information or was he conflating disparate sources to fabricate a good story?

The Irish name of this parish, Baile na Scríne, comes from the old church of Scrine. The place is called Scrine (library) because it is supposed to have been founded as a library by St Patrick. There are many traditions connected to the church, including its bell which is said to be X.KB 2 in the National Museum of Scotland.

This interactive map shows the parish of Ballinascreen, and the half-townland of Creeve. Open in new window

The Ordanance Survey letters of John O’Donovan contain information about the O’Kelly family, although I don’t find any reference to Cormac. The O’Kellys were said to have been hereditary seanchaithe historians of Gleann Con Cadhain, and had collections of manuscripts. (letter 14D 21/29, 11 September 1834. PDF facsimile, PDF p.314). Gleann Con Cadhain comprises Ballinascreen plus the two parishes to the East.

O’Donovan also gives other useful local information, including that the valley was formerly heavily wooded down to the 18th century (PDF p313)., but that the woods were cut down for charcoal-burning for local iron mills and blacksmiths and also for export (PDF p329)

We get more specific information about where Cormac lived from Énri Ó Muirgheasa (Henry Morris), Dhá Chéad de Cheoltaibh Uladh (1934). Seán Donnelly’s 1993 article reproduces and translates the relevant passage, which describes the half-towland of An Chraobh (Crieve or Creeve), being the northern half of the townland of Doon. Ó Muirgheasa implies (though he does not state explicitly) that Cormac Ó Ceallaigh lived in An Chraobh.

Ó Muirgheasa refers to him as “Cormac na gCláirseach” (Cormac of the harp) and says his son was called “Maghnus na gCláirseach” (Magnus of the harp). Seán Donnelly assumes that Magnus was also a harp maker, but we are not told this. Cathal O’Shannon was more explicit in The Evening Press, (Friday May 1, 1964, p.12): “The famous harpmaker was a native of the townland of An Chraoibh, or Creeve, which I knew very well…” O’Shannon gives a lot of useful information about other members of the O’Kelly family of the area, from his own personal knowledge.

Portrait

There is a portrait that is said to be of Cormac Ó Ceallaigh. It was printed with a brief commentary by Breandán Breathnach, in Ceol vol 1 issue 3, Winter 1963, p.1112. The item was headed “Cormac O Ceallaigh” and consists of a brief note about Cormac, lifted from Bunting’s 1840 book, mentioning Ballinascreen, and mentioning the Downhill harp. The article also comments on the Downhill harp having “acquired recently” by Guinness, and says the harp “is at present on exhibition in the USA advertising that firm’s Harp Lager”.

Breathnach concludes, “the portrait above, a reproduction from another print, was kindly made available by Colm O Lochlainn, Three Candles Press, Dublin. Unfortunately, it was not possible before going to press to ascertain from Colm who the artist was”.

There is an undated letter from Breandán Breathnach in the NMI Archive (file AI 64 006) which says “C Ó Lochlainn, the Three Candles, gave me a block of the harper for use in Ceól. I have a few notes collected on Ó Ceallaigh but should like to say who painted the original and where it is now.” A b/w photo of the painting is with the letter, with the name “Cormac Ó Ceallaigh” hand-written on the photograph. There is also a draft reply from William O Sullivan who says (tentative reading!) “I am retaining the print of the harper with the hope that [illegible]. The name of the painter is not legible and the print is a half tone made from another print not from the original painting. The national library research also failed to yield anything”

The painting is now in the National Gallery in Dublin, ref. NGI.1200. The catalogue says it was purchased privately in 1951. The catalogue also says it is of Arthur O’Neill, and says it was painted by Conn O’Donnell. A black-and-white reproduction was printed in Early Music May 1987 (frontis) where it was captioned as Arthur O’Neill (presumably following the NGI attribution); this reproduction allows the artist’s signature to be read as “ODONEL PINXIT”

I don’t know where either of these claims come from. I don’t think it looks much like the other portraits of Arthur O’Neill; but I have no idea why Colm O’Lochlann might have thought it was Cormac Ó Ceallaigh. Did Ó Lochlainn have traditionary information about the painting? More curiously, I have never come across “another print” which this reproduction is supposedly copied from. The letter refers to a “block” – did Ó Lochlainn give Breathnach a printed paper copy of the picture, to be photographically reproduced, or did he actually give Breathnach a wood-and-metal halftone printer’s block for Breathnach to use directly in printing the copies of Ceol? How does the copy on photographic paper preserved in the NMI archive relate to these? Ó Lochlainn was a publisher, setting up his own publishing house, “at the sign of the three candles”. Did he intend to publish the portrait in one of his own books? Most curiously, the painting was already in the National Gallery at the time of this correspondence and article, though Breathnach didn’t know this. In the letter, Breathnach explains “CÓL is sick so I can’t ask him”.

The harp is shown with the strings on the wrong side of the neck.

Further research

I need to go to An Chraobh to see his places. And we need to keep an eye out for other traditionary or historical references to Cormac.

Making tuning pins

This post describes my method of making tuning pins. It is a labour-intensive process and though I am taking orders for sets of pins, I think my pricing does not really cover the work involved. But I want there to be more harps with beautiful handmade pins! I’m posting this so that if anyone else wants to take on the manufacture and supply of pins like this, they can get some ideas from what I have worked out.

Design

I want my pins to be the same as the old Irish harp pins. This is harder than it sounds because it is very difficult to accurately measure the old pins. I have been studying a combination of photographs of the old pins, and accurately calibrated laser-scans. The problem with the laser-scans is that there are a lot of scanning artefacts on the tuning pins; the problem with photographs is that perspective and parallax makes the tapers and exact sizes very difficult to assess.

For the reconstruction copy of the NMI Carolan harp, I chose one of the pins and made a paper template full-size from the laser-scan. I am also interested in copying some of the archaeological pins such as the ones from Montgomery Castle. It is also possible to come up with a kind of generic design pin that is not an exact copy of any one old pin, but which fits into the general scheme.

Tuning pin 14 on the NMI Carolan harp

I also tried making resin casts of the Monaghan pin, but this is not a particularly good pin since the shaft is not parallel and circular. Even then it was very hard to accurately measure its size.

I think that for functioning pins we need to control the taper and diameter of the shaft, and we need to control the taper and width of the drive. I am doing this by using commercial standard tapered shafts, and then hand-shaping the heads to fit with standard sized gauges.

Shafts

I’ve been using Dan Speer‘s brass shafts. I haven’t yet found a supplier in the EU; but Dan is efficient and friendly to deal with. I also ask Dan to drill the string hole for me. I ask him to make the hole a bit smaller than usual, and closer to the end. The blanks are expensive, and so is shipping and import duty.

I have been experimenting with different size blanks. They are sized according to the Imperial taper system, with a 1/48 taper. The blanks are specified by a length and a number; the number refers to the diameter of the large end of the pin. This means that the longer the pin, the smaller the small end is. Sometimes I cut the wide end of the head off to make the blank shorter; this of course makes the whole pin more slender than if I had used a shorter pin of the same number.

Sizes of no.5, no.4, and no.3 Imperial (1/48) taper pins

Heads

For the heads, I buy square-section brass rod. This is available in standard sizes. The rod needs to be at least as wide as the wide end of the shaft; so for no.4 shafts I would buy 1/4″ (6.4mm) square rod. If I am using no.5 pins, then I need to get the next size up which is typically 3/8″ (9.5mm). Ideally the rod should be about the same size, so for no.5 pins the rod should be 7.5mm, because anything bigger than that will just need filed away.

#4 x 3 1/2″ drilled pin blank from Dan Speer, and 1/4″ square brass rod.

Assembling heads and shafts

The head is cut from the square rod with a hacksaw. For consistency, I use a caliper / divider to mark the length of the head.

The shaft can be used as is, or can be cut down. I started making my pins using the blanks as is, and then I realised that this made my pins a bit thicker than modern machined harp pins of the same nominal size. That’s because I was adding the head to the wide end of my pin, whereas a modern machine-made pin cuts the head down into the wide end of the blank. So, my preference now is to cut a short length off of the wide end of the pin.

cutting guide for a set of pins

In the example from my notebook, I would cut the head from 1/4″ square brass rod, cutting a piece 18mm long. I would take a pin blank, #4 x 3 1/2″ (i.e. no.4 x 89mm). I would mark 75mm from the small end, and cut off the remainder of the fat end.

Then I would carefully file the cut ends flat, so that they would fit together closely.

I use a blowtorch and silver-solder to join the shaft and the drive. This is tricky and precision work. I use firebricks to hold the pieces together under their own weight, standing the shaft wide-end-down on top of the head, with just a nice amount of flux powder. When they are almost red-hot the solder can be touched to the joint to melt in, and then more heating will bring the brass to red-hot and the solder will flow throughout the join and make nice wide fillets at the four corners of the head.

Two newly-soldered pins resting in the fire-bricks, the right-hand one still glowing red-hot.
Four rough pins, soldered but not cleaned.

Then the heads are filed. Care is needed to make the inner, wider end of the head just flush with the shaft; the outer, narrower end is tapered gradually down.

I use standard clock-keys as measuring gauges to judge the taper of the heads; for the example no.4 pins my notebook indicates how far onto the tapered head two clock keys will fit; a no.13 (5.5mm) key will fit about halfway down the drive, and a no.12 (5.25mm) key will fit just a few mm down the end of the head. I think I would use a 5.75mm socket on a tuning key for these pins.

Finally, the V-shaped grooves on the drive are made, with fine needle files. Different original pins have different configurations of these decorative grooves; their specific shape and depth gives a lot of the character to the pins. For these no.4 pins I made the grooves on the drive faces very deep and tapering; the diamonds on the drive ends were also cut very deep and then shaped to give a “clove” effect. Other pins I have made have much shallower grooves which give a more two-dimensional look, more like engraved lines. Some pins also have lateral incised lines running around the drive end.

Two of the no.4 pins made according to the specs in my notebook.

I don’t believe this is how the old craftsmen made brass tuning pins. I think it is much more likely that the old pins were cast and/or turned on a lathe. I have seen modern cast and turned copies of the old pins, and they look very nice. But I don’t have either foundry equipment, nor a lathe. Also it seemed important to me to fit in with modern norms and to use the modern 1/48 Imperial taper shafts, just like other harps.

My header image shows the pins I made for the reconstruction copy of the NMI Carolan harp, which was made for me by Pedro Ferreira.

Replica harps & portraits of harpers as a source for performance practice

In 2018, I did a session at Scoil na gCláirseach in Kilkenny, about connecting to the old Irish harp tradition, and understanding how tradition worked. As part of that session, we sat with replica harps and looked at the portraits of the old harpers. I had not really prepared that aspect of the 2018 workshop, and so it was a bit ad-hoc. But afterwards, I realised that this was a very powerful tool for understanding and re-imagining the lost old Irish harp traditions.

Part of the point of that kind of work is acknowledging that the present day living practice of harp playing in Ireland is not part of the inherited indigenous Irish harping tradition. The inherited tradition came to a final end in the 19th century, with the death of the last tradition-bearers, who did not pass their tradition on to the next generation. Post-19th-century harp-players in Ireland have had to invent their practice anew, mostly by borrowing heavily from Anglo-Classical practice (many common features of present day practice, e.g. gut strings, semitone mechanisms, right orientation, harmonic arrangements, colour-coded strings, show Anglo-Continental classical lineage)

My idea was that we can try to re-connect to the broken end of the old Irish harp tradition by trying to imitate the last of the tradition-bearers. If the old harpers were still alive, we could sit beside them and copy their playing and share their tradition. We can’t do that because they’re all dead for over a hundred years; but we can try to imitate them as closely as possible by looking at what information we do have about their practice.

For some of the old harpers we have a huge amount of information. Patrick Quin is probably the most important; we have the amazing portrait discovered by Sylvia Crawford; we have the harp that he is playing in that portrait; and we have very explicit, clear and complete transcriptions live from his playing, done by Edward Bunting in around 1800. Denis O’Hampsey is also important, since we have the engraved portrait of him, we have the harp that he played, and we have Bunting’s transcriptions of his playing, though the portrait is less life-like and the transcriptions are more problematical. For other harpers, we have other information, less complete. For some we have transcriptions; for others we have harps that may or may not have been played by them; for some we have more biographical details.

But there is plenty enough to be getting on with, by applying ourselves in an honest and all-consuming attempt to play the old Irish harp by carefully and meticulously imitating the practice of the tradition-bearers.

The portraits, the old harps, and the manuscript transcriptions are our guidelines.

For Scoil 2019 this past August I led a participatory workshop titled “Replica harps & portraits of harpers as a source for performance practice”. The aim of this session was to explore what information the harps and portraits could give us. The portraits are simple enough, in that they show us posture and hand position (though there was some interesting discussion about the limitations of the portraits, and the different nature of the different portraits).

I spent more time talking about the old harps, and the value of really accurate “archaeological” reproductions of them, and what both the originals and the modern copies could tell us about how they were used in the old tradition.

The highlight for me was to have so many really top quality copies of a selection of the old harps lined up, and to have willing volunteers to sit in front of one of the portraits, and hold the appropriate replica harp, and try to copy the details of posture and hand position demonstrated by the old harper.

The video of the session is almost one hour long, but if you are interested in the process of trying to re-connect to the broken end of the old Irish harp tradition, you might find it of interest.

Thanks to Brian Doyle and ITMA for filming the session, and to Siobhán Armstrong and the Historical Harp Society of Ireland for hosting it. Thanks also to Michael Billinge and Aoibheann Devlin for the loan of their instruments.

Laser scan

I’m being slow at organising my data, but today I managed to re-sample the NMI Carolan harp laser-scan, and uploaded it to Sketchfab. This allows it to be easily embedded in web pages.

NMI Carolan harp (National Museum of Ireland) by Simon Chadwick on Sketchfab

Sketchfab does allow downloading of the low-res model but I have also made a link to the full-res version: OBJ mesh file. I use the MeshLab app to view and manipulate the OBJ mesh file

The scan data is marked cc-by (attribution) on Sketchfab but I think it is really public domain, since it is just a digital reproduction of a public-domain publicly owned artefact. You don’t need to attribute it to me – please give attribution and credit to the National Museum of Ireland, who own the original object and gave permission for the laser-scan to be made.

Here’s the video of Elaina Sugrue of Accuscan, making the scan back in the October 2018. You can see how the point-cloud, captured by the scanner, is rendered real-time on her laptop screen. This scanning process generates a huge amount of point data, which had to be processed, and separate passes with the scanner “registered”, to generate the finished mesh file.

I think it is important to be able to release this kind of primary data, as part of the project to understand the old harps more. This scan is a wonderful resource, but it needs a lot of further study to be of practical use. I have made many slices and renderings, which in due course I will publish.

This harp, being very damaged and distorted, requires also a lot of theoretical reconstruction work. Hopefully in time we can also publish reconstruction drawings. I am still thinking about how best to go about this.

I remembered my old post, Archaeological copies of old Gaelic harps from back in 2016. We are not moving at the rate I suggested of one per year, but this kind of study and documentation is an important part of this kind of long project.

The header photo is by Brenda Malloy, and shows myself and Elaina Sugrue at the National Museum of Ireland in October 2018

A typology of tuning pins

There are a number of different styles of taper harp tuning pins. I am trying to categorise them so that it is easier to be specific when talking about the different types. Up to now I have talked about the “old” style with fat drive heads, and the “modern machine-made” style with narrow heads. But I see now that these are rough categories, which can be broken down more subtly.

I think the most distinctive and diagnostic thing is the relationship between the drive and the shaft. The drive is the square- or rectangular-section end of the pin, which is where you put the tuning key on, to turn the pin. The shaft is the conical main part of the pin, which is embedded in the wood of the neck, and also which carries the string at the far end. The shaft is always, and the drive usually, tapered rather than parallel-sided.

Basically I think the first diagnostic is whether the head is wider or narrower than the shaft; in other words whether there is a step up or a step down to the head from the shaft.

I’d suggest Type 1 pins have a step up from the shaft to the head; Type 2 pins have the head about the same size as the shaft, and Type 3 pins have a step down from the shaft to the head.

We could have sub-categories; sub-type a could have a sharp step at about 90°; sub-type b could have a clear transition at about 45°; and sub-type c could have a very smooth flat transition. We could also append R for pins with rectangular (not square) drives.

Suggested typology of harp taper tuning pins

Because both head and shaft taper away from the centre of the pin, and because there is often a gradual transition from shaft to head, it can be hard to state at what point the diameter or width of each part should be measured and compared. So while it is easy to think about comparing the width of the head with the width of the shaft, it is often difficult in practice to choose where to measure. So my idea of looking for the nature of the “step” between shaft and head might prove more useful.

Left to right:
Type 3a (modern #5×3″ steel pin)
Type 3a (modern #4×3″ steel pin)
Type 3b (steel pin from Arnold Dolmetsch harp no.10, c.1932)
Type 2c (iron pin made by Simon Chadwick for a replica medieval Gothic harp, 2018)
Type 2cR (iron pin made by Simon Chadwick for the replica Queen Mary harp, 2014)
Type 2cR (brass pin made by Simon Chadwick for the replica Queen Mary harp, 2007)
Type 1b (brass pin made by Simon Chadwick for the replica Carolan harp, 2019)
Type 1c (brass pin from county Monaghan, c.17th century)

I think that previous attempts to document tuning pins have not been specific enough about where the measurements have been taken. The scheme below suggests where to measure:

Point A is the extreme end of the pin
B is the smallest diameter of the conical shaft of the pin
C is the largest diameter of the conical shaft of the pin
D is the largest width across the flats of the drive
E is the smallest width across the flats of the drive
F is the extreme end of the pin.

The following measurements can be taken to record a pin:
1. Distance A-B
2. Diameter at B
3. Distance A-C
4. Diameter at C
5. Distance A-D
6. Width across flats at D
7. Depth across flats at D
8. Distance A-E
9. Width across flats at E
10. Depth across flats at E
11. Distance A-F

From these measurements we can calculate the taper of the shaft, the range of sizes of tuning key socket which will fit the head, and the nearest standard taper hole that the pin will fit in. We can also work out the nearest standard taper blank to use for making a copy.

Triple harp tuning key

I was thinking for a while about the three-armed tuning key which is illustrated in Mersenne’s 1635 book, Harmonie Universelle. Joan Rimmer says in her article ‘The morphology of the triple harp’ (Galpin Society Journal XVIII, March 1965) “the three-armed tuning key still used in Wales is identical with that shown in Mersenne’s diagram”. I remember Tim Hampson showing me one, which fitted the three different sizes of tuning pin drives on a reproduction 18th century Welsh triple harp he had made.

I made my triple tuning key from brass, but instead of three close sizes to fit three types of pin on one harp, I used three very different sizes to fit all different kinds of harps. The huge socket will fit the Carolan harp replica; the middle sized socket will fit Student harps with standard American pedal-harp pins; and the tiny socket will fit modern minis such as the Dolmetsch harp or Ardival Kilcoys.

Now I have made it I am thinking it is a bit too small to be totally comfortable to use; the arms should be 1 or 2cm longer. But it makes a great keyring tuning key.

I’ve listed it on my tuning pins for sale page – if you want one you know where to come!

Laying out the pins on the neck of the harp

In 2011, Michael Billinge wrote an interesting observation on the layout of the tuning pins on the neck of the Downhill harp. Talking about the way the tuning pins become more spread along the cheek band, as the angle of the neck becomes higher in the bass, he writes: “instead of an even change across the range, as might normally be expected, he seems to have done this in a series of blocks or groupings”

In his footnote, Billinge gives a list of the gaps between adjacent pins, and the way that they increase in steps. My chart below gives a visual representation of his data:

Pins spacing on the neck of the Downhill harp (mm) (data from Michael Billinge)

What made me think of this was that I was doing the same work this week on the Carolan harp. I tagged points on the laser-scan corresponding to the cheek-band holes in the left side (string side) cheek band, and then calculated the distance between each one. Plotting a graph of these distances showed clear groups of similarly-sized spaces.

Tuning pin spacing on the neck of the Carolan harp (mm)

Billinge does not say what the error margin on his measurements are, and so it is difficult to analyse them further. On the Carolan harp, the error on the picked points is less than 0.1mm, but the selection of what points to pick is much less accurate than that, since the scan is quite messy around the tuning pin, with lots of scanning artefacts. I would estimate the accuracy of my measurements as perhaps ±1mm

You can see on my graph that there is a certain amount of zig-zagging, alternating around an average value. I saw this also on the spacing of the string shoes on the belly, but I explained that as an artefact of the alternating shoe design. I’m less sure how to understand this alternating spacing on the neck.I have not done such a detailed measurement of any of the other harps, but the point positions of the tuning pins as used to generate the string charts for the Kildare and the Mullaghmast harps can be used to analyse the pin spacing. The accuracy here is perhaps more like ±3mm. The Kildare seems to show some evidence of grouping, but the Mullaghmast pins are clearly spaced incrementally, with each pin a little further from its neighbour than the previous one.

Pin spacing on the neck of the Kildare harp (mm)


Pin spacing on the neck of the Mullaghmast harp (mm) (cropped, the largest spacing is 116mm)

We could follow Billinge by averaging each group on the Carolan harp, and calculating a standard deviation from the average:

Pins 1-3: 17±1.5mm
Pins 3-6: 14.5±6mm (too erratically placed to say much)
Pins 6-12: 13±1.5mm
Pins 12-19: 14.5±1.5mm
Pins 19-26: 18.5±1.5mm
Pins 26-30: 22±1mm
Pins 30-32: 26±1mm
Pin 32-33 crosses the opened neck-pillar joint.
Pins 33-36: 28.5±1mm

I think this kind of analysis can give us ideas about the working methods of the old harp makers. We can imagine the makers of the Downhill and the Carolan harp, working with dividers to lay out groups of pinholes on the metal cheek-band, as well as using dividers to lay out the string-shoes equally spaced on the soundboard.

What then of the Mullaghmast harp, with its progressive spacing? A different school of harpmaking?

My header photo shows a rendering from the laser-scan, showing two points picked for holes 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, and 4. The position of each hole was calculated as an average of the positions of the two points. The background grid is 1mm x 10mm. The messy damage around hole 3 and the break in the neck is visible in the top-right corner.

3d photography as a measurement tool

The bass end of the Carolan harp (which was sometimes called the Rose Mooney harp) is very damaged, and there has been a lot of movement inside the bass joint. However it’s not possible to measure this movement from the outside, because of the later repairs with iron straps and canvas bandages completely covering this part of the harp.

I had an idea to try and make stereo pair photographs of this part of the harp, to see if I could use them to measure the amount of movement both downwards (towards the bass end of the soundbox) and backwards (towards the back of the harp).

Continue reading 3d photography as a measurement tool

Harpe bardique

I have been discussing stringing possibilities of a harp made by a French harp maker, supposedly as a copy of one of the old Gaelic harps. Analysing its string lengths I noted that its scaling was suspiciously slow.

(Scaling is the technical word used to describe the ratio of string lengths across the range of a harp or other stringed instrument; a slow scaling means the strings increase in length more gradually as you move from treble to bass.)

Then I remembered that I had come across this slow, even scaling before, on harps modelled after the “Bardic harp” of Gildas Jaffrennou.

Continue reading Harpe bardique