Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Tempestuous History of the Celtic Harp

The beautiful, bell-like tones of the Celtic Harp belie its turbulent history. When you read the following excerpt from Eliseo Mauas Pinto's e-book, "The Celtic Harp", you'll understand why:

"The English warlike power [by the late 15th century] were not only looking for Irish submission. The English insisted on the idea that the Irish were "barbarians"... [they wanted to] eliminate the custom of which kings and gentlemen shared the table with jugglers, harpists and crew members... 

[The above picture] depicts an Irish bard praising the harper (who plays a not very well drawn harp in the lower right hand corner) while the host and chieftain of the Mac Sweynes is seated at dinner. With the gradual weakness of the kings in their sovereign power, the fall of the leadership of the bards and the harpists began by the end of the 15th century. Thus, the harp found refuge in Scotland, where many noble were dedicated to it’s performance, even kings like James IV.
Between 1494 and 1503, extensive companies of harpists settled in the Highlands. Thus the Harp became the national instrument of Scotland. Each clan had its own harpist, but after several years of feudal expansion and fights for the power, the importance of the harp decayed by the end of the 17th century, and gradually it was replaced by the Scottish bagpipes (Highland Bagpipes). Ironically, while the Irish bards and harpists were persecuted and executed and their harps destroyed, Isabel I delighted with harpists at her court, who used to play jigs, strathspeys and hornpipes for her. Times passed by turning even harder.
Between 1650 and 1660, Oliver Cromwell ordered the destruction of harps and organs in both Catholic and Protestant circles. Five hundred harps were confiscated and burned in the city of Dublin alone, and some 2,000 in all Eire. Like the Highland bagpipes, the harp began to gain the status of a “forbidden instrument” and was the origin of revolt against the Crown. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, the poetry and music of the bards decayed as a result of innumerable exiles and fears. This deliberate destruction and persecution finished with Oliver Cromwell; soon the Enclosure Laws in Scotland and the extreme hunger in Ireland, would again force these gaelic people to emigrate.
Since the 9th century through the Baroque era, the Irish harp represented the instrument of the upper classes in the Celtic countries. Perhaps this is why some survived to modern times."
--From “The Celtic Harp”, Smashwords Edition, ©2012 Eliseo Mauas Pinto, used with permission (including artwork). 

Interestingly, the harp is recognized as the national instrument of Ireland, appearing on its flag and coins. The harp stands for the struggles Ireland has endured throughout the centuries. 

Special thanks to my friend and wonderful harper, Eliseo Mauas Pinto, for his guest blog post. Share your love of Celtic culture, Celtic music, and Celtic harps, too! Contact me if you'd like to be featured as a guest blogger, contact me through the email address on my website at

About our guest blogger: Eliseo Mauas Pinto was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He took knowledge of the Celtic world at the age of twenty, motivated by his love for literary and musical subjects. He was the first to introduce the Celtic Harp and Celtic Festivals in Argentina. As a writer, poet, musician and reviewer, he has published printed books in Spanish, Galician and Asturian languages, enlisting some new works on eBook formats. Visit his Celtic Sprite blog.


Eliseo Mauas Pinto said...

Thanx a lot kind Anne...I am flattered to be featured at your awesome Celtic Harp Music blogsite! I have spread the word on all of my websites...Keep up the sacred flame as always...
Eternal bliss thru harpistry!

Anne Roos said...

Thank you so much, Eliseo!

Chandra said...

This is awesome!