Irish harp

I research, play and teach the old Irish harp traditions.

From the introduction to my book, Progressive Lessons (2017):

Nowadays, there are many different types of harps from many different countries, all competing for space in a post-modern global melting pot. But people have always known about the old Gaelic harp traditions of Ireland and Scotland, using a big harp of “…about thirty brass wires, the twang of which give the music a striking metallic brilliancy. The high notes are given with the left hand, reserving the more powerful member for the deep notes of the bass.” (Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal 19th Sept 1840)

I started with an interest in the oldest strands of the Gaelic harp traditions. In 2006-7 I commissioned a detailed “archaeological” reproduction of the 14th century Scottish Queen Mary clarsach preserved in the National Museum of Scotland, which I used to explore possible re-imaginings of medieval West Highland music, including an exploration of the pibroch or ceòl mór repertory of the bagpipes.

In 2017, I decisively changed direction; my current work is concentrating on the tradition-bearers of the late 18th and early 19th century. I am interested in lineage, transmission and trying to connect to the broken end of the living tradition 200 years ago. In 2018-19 I researched, and commissioned from Atelier Rumor, a detailed “archaeological” copy of the 17th or 18th century NMI Carolan harp owned by the National Museum of Ireland, which I am now using to explore old Irish harp playing techniques, style and idiom.

My latest project is to study and reconstruct the performances behind Edward Bunting’s live transcriptions of the old Irish harpers in the 1790s. I am publishing my video demonstrations and commentary on this website as my Old Irish Harp Transcriptions Project.

The new reconstruction copy of the NMI Carolan harp. Photo: Atelier Rumor