Harps Alive Overview
Harps Alive | An Chruit Bheo | Harps Leevin events take place on Saturday 9 July, 15-17 July and 24 July. With more than 50 harpers performing on the north-east coast, in Belfast and in Dublin, the festival offers an unrivalled opportunity to explore Edward Bunting’s wonderful legacy to harpers, while at the same time enjoying the many facets of Irish harping today.
The 1792 Belfast Harpers’ Assembly was led by the upper echelon of cultural leadership in Belfast who wished to revive an interest in harp music by collecting the music of the harpers and noting their style of playing. 230 years later, we gather to celebrate the work and legacy of the renowned organist and collector, Edward Bunting, who played such a pivotal role in the collection and preservation of their music for future generations of harpers.
Harps Alive presents a tantalising array of lectures, community gatherings, workshops, exhibitions, and concerts illustrating the exciting developments that have taken place since the 1792 Belfast Harpers Assembly. It is a testament to the vibrancy of the harp tradition today. We also welcome a major publication from renowned composer and musicologist, David Byers, charting Irish harpers’ gatherings between 1780 -1840.
Harps Alive | An Chruit Bheo | Harps Leevin has been a true partnership, transcending boundaries and epitomised by collegiality and positivity. Our thanks to our colleagues, who have collaborated to make the event a success. Special thanks to our funders, both north and south, without whom it could not take place.
Harps Alive | Saturday 9 July
A Tribute to Denis Hempson
St. Aidan’s Church, Magilligan | Saturday 9 July (3pm)
Stephen McCracken (historian), Niall Comer (historian), Aoibheann UÍ Dhoibhlin (harp)
Pictured at St Aidan’s Church are Mark Doherty, Harps Alive north coast organiser; Dr Niall Comer, Harps Alive committee; Stephen McCracken, Harps Alive secretary; harpist Aoibheann Uí Dhoibhlín; Aibhlin McCrann Chair of Harp Ireland and Nodlaig Ni Bhrollaigh of the Ruaidhri Dall Harp Ensemble
Denis Hempson, the Harper and his Legacy
Mussenden Temple, Castlerock | Saturday 9 July (5pm)
Historian Mark Doherty and genealogist Fiona Pegrum, alongside North Coast harpers, presented a captivating account of the life and times of Magilligan harper Denis Hempson, who was 97 when he performed at the Belfast Harpers’ Assembly of 1792. His fame results from the most ancient tunes being transcribed from him by Edward Bunting, although he was reluctant to share them, saying’ nobody will understand my music’.
This event showcased many local harpers who played some of his best-known tunes to illustrate the Hempson story. Harper Aoibheann Uí Dhoibhlin, harpers from Scoil Ruaidhrí Dall led by Nodlaig Ní Bhrollaigh and the Causeway Harp Ensemble led by Katy Bustard performed in the beautiful Georgian performance space of Mussenden Temple, a memorial folly built in 1783 on the Downhill Estate.
Harps Alive | Friday 15 July
Festival Launch Linen Hall Library | Friday 15 July (6pm)
Festival Launch by the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Tina Black, and launch of David Byers’ seminal Gatherings of Irish Harpers 1780-1840, especially commissioned for the festival, with harpers Laoise Kelly and Adam O’Neill.
Below: From left Frank Bunting (the grandson of Edward Bunting’s brother), Aibhlín McCrann (Cruit Èireann | Harp Ireland), harper Adam O’Neill, John Gray (Reclaim The Enlightenment) and Lord Mayor of Belfast Councillor Christina Black at the launch of the Harps Alive│An Chruit Bheo│Harps Leevin festival at Linen Hall Library in Belfast on Friday night. (Photo by Arthur Allison / Pacemaker Press)
Exhibition | The Harp and Its Heritage
Linen Hall Library | Friday 15th to Sunday 17th July
The Linen Hall Library is a unique institution, founded in 1788. Early members of the Library organised a festival of harp music in July 1792 ‘with the intention of having the music taken down and recorded for the first time’. ‘The Harp and Its Heritage’ exhibition also features the James McFall harp and some of Edward Bunting’s notes and manuscripts from the Queen’s University collection which will be on display for the duration of the Festival.
Strike Up the Harp | Lauren O’Neill (harp) & Eugene McKenna (fiddle)
Music Hall at The Deer’s Head | Friday 15 July (8pm)
Harper Lauren O’Neill joined forces with fiddle player Eugene McKenna to explore some of the harpers’ tunes from the Bunting collection. Lauren is a leading light in harping in Northern Ireland and apart from her ground-breaking research into the harp’s relationship with 16th century Bardic poetry, she has carved out an active performance and teaching career. She has been instrumental in reviving the Derry harp school and a number of other harp schools. This harp and fiddle duo are a regular item on the traditional music scene in Northern Ireland.
Harps Alive | Saturday 16 July
The A-Z of Harp-making | Workshop with Brian Waugh & Katy Bustard (harp)
Shankill Road Library | Saturday 16 July (10am)
Come along and discover how one of Northern Ireland’s most renowned harp makers turns out instruments that are in demand worldwide. Hear the harp being played by well-known Causeway harper, Katy Bustard and you’ll appreciate the craft behind the art.
Harps Are Fun! Workshop with Sharon Carroll
Turas, East Belfast Mission, Newtownards Rd. | Saturday 16 July (10am)
Harper Sharon Carroll delves into the magic of Irish legend and invites children to come along to be spellbound by enchanting harp sounds and intriguing stories.
Lunchtime Concert: Northern Stars
First Presbyterian Church, Rosemary St, Belfast | Saturday 16 July (1pm)
Three shining lights of Irish harping Gráinne Meyer, Adam O’Neill, and Ciara Taaffe came together to showcase their diverse styles in a lunchtime concert of harpers’ music.
Below: Northern Stars at First Presbyterian Church, Rosemary Street – harpers Adam O’Neill,
Ciara Taaffe and Gráinne Meyer. (Photo by Alex Feher / Excalibur Press)
Denis Hempson, the Harper and his Legacy presented by Mark Doherty and Fiona Pegrum
First Presbyterian Church, Rosemary St, Belfast | Saturday 16 July (12pm)
A captivating account of the life and times of Magilligan harper Denis Hempson who was 97 when he performed at the Belfast Harpers’ Assembly of 1792.
Below: Belfast historian Mark Doherty, Co Meath harper Ciara Taaffe and Limavady genealogist Fiona Pegrum all took to the stage at the First Presbyterian Church on Rosemary Street, Belfast for the 2022 Harps Alive│An Chruit Bheo│Harps Leevin festival event ‘Denis Hempson, the Harper and his Legacy’. (Photos by Alex Feher / Excalibur Press)
The Assembly Rooms | Saturday 16 July (2:30pm)
The Assembly Rooms at the junction of North Street and Waring Street is the oldest public building in Belfast, dating back to 1769. It was here that the celebrated Assembly of Harpers took place in 1792. Now semi-derelict it stands as a reproach to the citizens of Belfast. Our Citizens’ Manifestation will make the case for Belfast City Council to acquire the building for use as a centre to celebrate our city’s enlightened 18th century era. All welcome.
Co-Chair of the Harps Alive Festival, John Gray of Reclaim The Enlightenment spoke at the event entitled ‘The Manifestation: Belfast Harpers Assembly Gathering’. He urged the Council to acquire the building for public use, after years of neglect for the Grade B1 listed building that was built in 1769. Mr Gray told the crowd the building has been listed on the ‘Heritage At Risk Register’ since 2003.
Photos by Alex Feher / Excalibur Press
Early Harp Discovery Day: Listen, Learn, Have a Go! with Simon Chadwick and Sylvia Crawford
Clifton House, 2 Clifton St | Saturday 16 July (3:30pm)
Meet the Historical Harp Society of Ireland, hear this rare instrument played in concert, have your questions answered at an illustrated talk, and – if you sign up early enough – take one of up to eight places in a hands-on beginners’ workshop.
Simon Chadwick and Sylvia Crawford at Clifton House
Photos by Erin Horner / Excalibur Press
230 Years a-Harping Commemorative Concert
First Presbyterian Church, Rosemary Street | Saturday 16 July (8pm)
Harpers from all over Ireland gather to recreate the Belfast Harpers’ Assembly held around this time 230 years ago. Siobhán Armstrong (Early Irish Harp), singer Doimnic Mac Giolla Bhríde and harper Laoise Kelly revisit some of the harpers’music collected by Edward Bunting, while 13 of our younger harpers select and perform their favourite harpers’ tunes from the collection.
230 Years A Harping Commemorative Concert
Harpers from all over Ireland gathered to recreate the Belfast Harpers’ Assembly held around this time 230 years ago.
Siobhán Armstrong (Early Irish Harp), singer Doimnic Mac Giolla Bhríde and harper Laoise Kelly revisited some of the harpers’ music collected by Edward Bunting, while 13 of our younger harpers selected and performed their favourite harpers’ tunes from the collection.
Photos by Abby Davison / Excalibur Press
Harps Alive | Sunday 17 July
Seinnigí Linn le Cormac de Barra (Workshop and Concert)
An Cultúrlann | Sunday 17 July (12pm)
Internationally acclaimed harper Cormac de Barra invites you to a workshop at An Cultúrlann in Belfast. And that’s not all … Cormac also performs a special family concert at 1pm.
Taking the Tune: ‘3 Tunes to go’ (Workshop and Concert)
St Joseph’s, Sailortown | Sunday 17 July (12pm)
Luke Webb, Eilís Lavelle and Lauren O’Neill performed their favourite Bunting tunes on Sunday afternoon with our Harp Moments concert.
From Mayo to Belfast with Harper Hugh Higgins
The Duncairn | Sunday 17 July (2pm)
Winner of the TG4 Gradam na Bliana, harper Laoise Kelly, journeyed from Mayo to Belfast with Hugh Higgins, one of the blind harpers of the Assembly of 1792. She revisited some of his music and told his story.
Gala Finale Concert | Harps Alive, An Chruit Bheo, Harps Leevin
St Joseph’s, Sailortown | Sunday 17 July (8pm)
The Festival culminated with a celebration of our living tradition showing the exciting trajectory of harping at the present time. Kathleen Loughnane takes up the story with some music from the harpers Connellan – William and Thomas, whose music Bunting also featured. She is joined by her son Cormac Cannon and we hear the incomparable partnership of harp and pipes – the soul and sound of Ireland. Harpers Anne-Marie O’Farrell and Cormac de Barra are two of the most dynamic players at the current time; they play a scintillating combination of harpers’ music arranged in a contemporary way. The evening ends with a tribute to the Belfast Harp Orchestra with director Janet Harbison, who established the Grammy award-winning harp orchestra in 1992, bringing harpers together from both political traditions so that it quickly became a model of cross-community co-operation. She is joined by some of its former members, now professional harpers, together with soloists; singer Mairéad Healy and whistle player and piper, Patrick Davy.
Harps Alive | Sunday 24 July
Edward Bunting: The Dublin Connection
Rathfarnham Castle, Dublin | Sunday 24 July (1pm)
Musicologist and harper, Dr Mary Louise O’Donnell, delivered an address on Edward Bunting: The Dublin Connection, during which she set the scene about musical life in Dublin and the role that Edward Bunting played in it between 1818-1843.
Edward Bunting Remembered
Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin | Sunday 24 July (3pm)
A ceremony was held at Edward Bunting’s newly restored grave in Mount Jerome, where Catherine Martin, Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sports and Media laid a wreath to commemorate Bunting’s contribution to Irish music. This was preceded by David Byers, who spoke on the Bunting legacy. Poet Emily Cullen shared some of her poetry inspired by the Belfast Harp Festival, and two of our leading harpers, Paul Dooley (Early Irish harp) and Áine Ní Dhubhghaill (Irish harp) performed at the graveside.