Lá na Cruite, National Harp Day – 20th Oct 2018
Saturday October 20th is National Harp Day in Ireland with events planned across the country to celebrate and honour this most Irish of stringed instruments. The harp is Ireland’s official national emblem and it’s no wonder as Ireland’s association with the harp dates back well over 1,000 years.
Up to the 15th century any nobleman or woman worth their salt kept a harpist at hand ready to play music, accompany poetry readings and even ride out with their patrons, it was said that Brian Ború, High King of Ireland from 1002 until 1014 was a competent harpist. In fact one of the oldest surviving harps in the world is called The Brian Ború Harp and is on display in The Long Room at Trinity College, Dublin. Seemingly, it dates back to sometime between the 14th or 15th century but was originally and erroneously thought to be Brian Ború’s harp, hence the name.
The ‘Brian Ború Harp’ in Trinity College, Dublin
Due to its close association with Ireland and Irishness the harp was banned in the 16th century by Queen Elizabeth I with orders for the offending harpist to be arrested and hanged, such was the apparent connection between the harp and Irish insurrection. Understandably, the harp went into critical decline not helped by Cromwell’s subsequent destruction of all harps and organs in Ireland; an out and out ban on any gathering of harpists meant that harp playing was very nearly extinct and much of the harp music played up until then has been irretrievably lost.
Today the situation is much improved with the harp’s fortunes first taking a decided turn for the better in 1792 when a concerted attempt was made to find native harpists and recover the music, which was orally passed down. 19 year old organist Edward Bunting was entrusted with the task of notating the music and so taken was he with this work that he went on to publish his musically significant and crucially important literature, The Ancient Music of Ireland in 1840 – a peerless collection of ancient harp music and notes on harp playing.
The original Gaelic name for a harp was a cruit [krit] and subsequently cláirseach [klorshock]. Today the official collective of Irish harp players is known as Cruit Eireann or ‘Harp Ireland’. There are over 1,200 harpists now playing in Ireland and this proud Irish tradition is once again alive and well thanks to the likes of Cruit Éireann and The Historical Harp Society of Ireland.
With over 40 events happening across 20 counties you’re sure to find an event happening in your area, you’ll find details on Cruit Éireann’s website: https://www.harpireland.ie/ And if you’re thinking of taking up the harp, get in touch with us here at McNeela Instruments for more information.
The main featured image is a commemorative statue of Turlough O’Carolan the so-called Blind Harpist, in his home county of Roscommon. O’Carolan was a famous composer and harpist and lived during the 18th century, his music is still played today.