Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A Visit to the Trinity College Harp

Guest blogger Jason Hall shares his experience of visiting the Trinity College harp:

"I recently had the good fortune to visit Ireland, the old country of some of my ancestors, and, like any good cultural historical tourist, I visited the Trinity College Library. They're famous for a collection of old and rare books. While most of Europe was soaking in the Dark Ages, Celtic monks kept learning alive and paginated. I walked though the dim rooms, viewing the Book of Kells and other illuminated incunabula. 

Then, I emerged as from a dark wood to view that willow instrument to familiar from teh cans of Guinness stout. The Trinity College harp  was enclosed in glass, as sensitive to heat, moisture, and light as the manuscripts. It is stringless now and stouter than any beer, in delicate appearance, even for a clársach. I don't know when it was last actually played, but I imagine it has a bit of that clangy resonance I love so dearly.

The Trinity College harp was claimed to have belonged to 11th century Irish king Brian Boru, although it more likely dates to the 15th century. Still, it is one of only three surviving medieval Gaelic harps, and the only one in Ireland. It outlasted other contemporary or earlier instruments and became the national symbol of Ireland.

While we were visiting Dublin, my mom got a tattoo of the harp:

Special thanks to guest blogger Jason Hall, author and Brand Manager for Budget Rent a Car (Brisbane, AU). He enjoys traveling immensely, as well as sharing his travels with others.

Would you like to share your love of Celtic culture, Celtic music, and Celtic harps? I'm always happy to feature guest bloggers. Contact me through the email address on my website at to submit your article.


Jen Thames said...

Very interesting history! Who would think only 3 harps survived.

Anne Roos said...

Yes, I was surprised about that fact, too! Thanks for your comment, Jen.

Eliseo Mauas Pinto said...

I questioned myself oftenly since the very first time I saw this delightful surviving instrument, Why the "Trinity Harp" is also known as the "Brian Boru" Harp"?.

Certainly the so called "Brian Boru" Harp now in Trinity College Dublin, does not date from the time neither belonged to the Irish king "Brian Bóruma mac Cennétig", (c. 941–23 April 1014), High King of Ireland from 1002 to 1014; but was made in 1220 for "Donnchadh Cairbre O'Brien", King of Thomond.
It is relate to the Lamont and the Queen Mary harp models.

Regarding to the question if it was lately played or not...At this point Joan Rimmer, an expert in this field (Joan Rimmer, an expert in this field and author of a magnificent book "The Irish Harp" issued by Mercier Press, Cork, in 1969), was called in to restring the harp, after which it was tuned, and then Mary Rowland - who occasionally played her gut-strung harp with nails - was invited to play it. She gave much thought to the question of how the harp should be positioned. There are wear marks on both sides of the soundbox, and she found that she could only match these while playing, by sitting on a low stool, leaning the harp on her chest, and holding it with one knee and both wrists - a somewhat cramping position for the hands, though she found it comfortable enough. She said playing the instrument was "intoxicating, despite its condition." This is a remarkable compliment, considering the harp's age, and that it had been silent for 200 years before this. Joan Rimmer described the sound as bell-like, with some characteristics of the guitar and harpsichord. These descriptions are much as the Irish harp has been described throughout many centuries.

Thanx for honouring our ancient harps kind Anne!
Bright blessings to you and your artistry ♣
Celtic Sprite

Anne Roos said...

Thank you, Eliseo, for your very wise comments. You are so knowledgeable about the ancient harps...Would you like to send me a guest blog post?