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The irish harp - music

 

The harp that once by means of Tara's halls the soul of music shed, now hangs as mute on Tara's walls, as if that soul were fled. So sleeps the pride of previous days, so glory's adventure is o'er, and hearts that once beat high for praise, now feel that pulse no more

To tell the account of the Irish harp is to tell the chronicle of the Irish people. This antediluvian folk instrument with its beautiful, delicate sound is played today in spite of being ignored, derided and banned for centuries. Harpers, who in ahead days would have been hanged for their art, now brandish all over the world, as do the Irish themselves

Legend tell us the first harp was owned by Dagda, a chief among the Tuatha De Danaan. At one time for the duration of a war with the Fomorians, the gods of cold and darkness, his harp was stolen but later well again by Lugh and Ogma. When it was returned it had aquired two cloak-and-dagger names and the aptitude to call forth summer and winter. From then on, when Dagda played, he could construct a piece of music so poignant, it would make his addressees weep, he could play an air so euphoric it would make all and sundry smile, or bring forth a sound so tranquil, it would lull all who listened to sleep. So thus did the harp became the slot machine of Sorrow, Delight and Rest.

Harps are played all the way through much of the world. From antediluvian artworks, epic tales and poetry, we learn of harps in Babylonia and Mesopotamia. We see them in the tomb of Pharaoh Ramses III , votive carvings from Iraq and sculptures of antique Greece. From Africa, which has more than 100 harp traditions, the instrument travelled north to Spain and soon allot all over Europe. Strung with sinew, silk or wire, harps vary in size, assembly and embellishment according to the bodily and technological environments of their origins. African harps have been made from wood and gourd sheltered with cowhide, the Burmese sang auk has an vaulted soundbox analogous to the Turkish ceng while European harps appear a triangular frame, There is one aspect that all harps share: the strings run vertical (rather than parallel) to the sound box.

Griffith of Wales employed harpists in his court at the end of the 11th century and the monk-historian Geraldus Cambrensis fashionable the great skill of the Irish harpers and remarked that some even measured the Scots to be beat players. For Irish and Scottish harpers generally visited each other's countries to study, to learn and barter tunes and their music was all the rage all the way through Europe. A further twelfth century archivist, John of Salisbury, wrote that " . . . had it not been for the Irish harp, there would have been no music at all on the Crusades. "

These harps were quite atypical from the large pedal harps we see in advanced symphony orchestras. They were much smaller, firstly held on the harper's lap, leaning aligned with the left shoulder, had no pedals, and by and large were imprinted in one piece from bog wood. The Trinity Academy Harp and Queen Mary's Harp are the oldest existing Celtic harps and both date from the 15th or 16th centuries and illustrate the similarity connecting the Irish and Scottish harps. A distinguishing characteristic of these Gaelic harps was that they were wire-strung, instead than gut strung. The word "harp" has its roots in the Anglo-Saxon, Old German and Old Norse words which mean "to pluck. " In Gaelic they were known first as cruit and later as clarsach or clirseach.

The harp isn't curious to Ireland but subsequently became its countrywide emblem. (Nowadays you can even see it on the Guiness label) Harpers were abundantly skilled professionals who performed for the aristocracy and enjoyed supporting power - so much so that all through the 16th century, Queen Elizabeth I issued a declaration to hang Irish harpists and abolish their instruments to foil insurrection.

Sadly, while this oldest insignia of Ireland is still with us today most of the antique airs and melodies it once fashioned are long gone, but younger harpers are charming up the challenge to revive the pride of ex- days.

Susanna Duffy is a Civil Celebrant, grief counsellor and mythologist. She creates ceremonies and Rites of Passage for creature and civic functions, and specialises in Croning and other merriment for women. http://celebrant. yarralink. com


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