Plans

There are not really any plans for making an old Irish harp. But what there are, is templates and drawings of the old instruments that you can use as a basis for making a new one.

As with any instrument-making, there is no substitute for seeing and handling as many good examples as possible. The best examples of old Irish harps are now almost all in museum collections. Good accurate copies are now being made, but too many are simplified or modernised to create hybrid new designs that don’t work so well for the old music.

Some of the old instruments are broken and damaged and some of the templates and drawings show them in their distorted shape so you need to use some creativity to reconstruct an original form.

This page gathers links and references to published information about the old Irish harps, plans, templates, and information about how they are made, which will be useful to harpmakers. See also my stringcharts. I am very happy to be consulted on any aspects of the design of old Irish harps; get in touch if you would like more information.


If you are interested in the traditional Irish harp music, the songs and tunes of Carolan, and the music of the old harpers two to three hundred years ago, then you need a harp like they played, a floor-standing harp with brass strings, a bass range down 2 octaves below middle C. These are the harps which connect to the older strands of living traditional music of fiddle, pipes and song. There are quite a few good models to use for making one of these.

The Hollybrook harp

I think the Hollybrook harp may be the best model to use just now. It is the best studied, and the full templates and information and the 3D scan are about to be published on the HHSI website. It is a neat ergonomic shape and size, it has a good low bass range.
While we wait on the HHSI plans to be published, you can look at my very rough and approximate Hollybrook plans I drew up in 2017.

The NMI Carolan harp

I studied the NMI Carolan harp, and wrote it up as a peer-reviewed paper: Simon Chadwick, ‘Provenance and recording of an eighteenth-century harp’, The Galpin Society Journal LXXIII, March 2020, p.85-110 & 199-201.

You can download the 3D scan here. This is a large and heavy harp. Mostly because of the damage and distortion, there are a number of issues with making a reconstruction copy of it. Get in touch if you want more information.

Other harps

The Mulagh Mast harp and the Kildare harp have been 3D-scanned, but the scans and other data have not yet been published. The Downhill harp is often considered a great model to copy; however it has not been 3D scanned, and templates and data are not available.

Robert Bruce Armstrong’s book published in 1904 has some technical information about many of these old harps. I usually have a secondhand copy available for sale. It has also been scanned and published online at the Internet Archive.

I think that commissioning 3D scans of the other old harps would be very useful, because the scan can easily be used to generate accurate makers’ templates. Get in touch if you would be interested in sponsoring the cost of a scan.


Medieval Gaelic harps

If you are interested in the oldest instruments, there is a lot of information about the medieval Gaelic harps of Ireland and Scotland, and a few well-preserved examples to use as models for making a replica or reconstruction. These are not really suitable for playing the traditional harp music; they are ideal for a specialist historical investigation into medieval performance practice and speculative reconstruction of medieval repertory, plainchant, and accompanying of syllabic poetry recitation.

The Trinity College harp

To make a copy of the Trinity College harp, the best data and drawings available so far are in Paul Dooley’s article, ‘Reconstructing the medieval Irish harp’, Galpin Society Journal LXVII, 2014. You can get a copy from the Galpin Society. As a supplement to the article, Paul has prepared a supplementary report on the different sets of measurements of the Trinity College harp, which can be downloaded from the Galpin Society website. Paul has also made some CAD models of the harp strings which can be downloaded from Paul Dooley’s website.

I disagree with Paul’s stringing and tuning analysis. If you prefer, you can use my 2016 Trinity stringchart.

For info on the decoration and details, see R.B. Armstrong’s book. I have also made decoration charts for the Trinity neck decoration and the Trinity pillar decoration.

The Lamont harp

To make a copy of the Lamont harp, you can use the very detailed and comprehensive templates in Karen Loomis’s thesis. Karen has done CT scans of the harp (like a calibrated 3D X-Ray) and in her thesis she has used the scans to make very accurate templates of the components of the harps, specifically for harp-builders.

Lamont harp soundbox plan and cross-sections: vol.2 p.304-316
Contour map of soundboard thickness: vol.2 p. 298
Lamont harp neck cheekbands and tuning pin placement: Vol.2 p.215-217
neck outline and cross-sections: vol.2 p.240-243
Lamont harp forepillar vol.2 p.173-177

Karen’s thesis has a lot of other incredibly useful information, measurements, and close-up photographs of the construction of this harp. Get it, read it thoroughly and do what it shows, and you will have a very good harp!

The only thing I disagree with is her suggested stringing regimes. If you prefer, you can use my 2018 Lamont stringchart.

The Queen Mary harp

To make a copy of the Queen Mary harp, you can use the very detailed and comprehensive templates in Karen Loomis’s thesis. Karen has done CT scans of the harp (like a calibrated 3D X-Ray) and in her thesis she has used the scans to make very accurate templates of the components of the harps, specifically for harp-builders.

Queen Mary harp soundbox plan and cross-sections: vol.3 p.416, p.452-462
Contour map of soundboard thickness: vol.3 p. 446
Queen Mary harp neck cheekbands and tuning pin placement: Vol.3 p.384-385
neck outline and cross-sections: vol.3 p.397-400
Queen Mary harp forepillar vol.3 p.354-358

Karen’s thesis has a lot of other incredibly useful information, measurements, and close-up photographs of the construction of this harp. Get it, read it thoroughly and do what it shows, and you will have a very good harp!

The only thing I disagree with is her suggested stringing regimes. If you prefer, you can use my 2017 Queen Mary stringchart. For the decorative schemes you can use R.B. Armstrong’s book.