Saturday November 11th Lá na Cruite, National Harp Day, celebrating the various facets of the harp in Ireland, succeeded beyond our greatest expectations. It was Cruit Éireann’s first major initiative to promote Ireland’s national instrument, encourage more people to learn the harp, attract new audiences and recognise the harp’s unique place in Irish musical and cultural life. We invited anybody with an interest in the harp to join us to celebrate our iconic national instrument. And they rallied with a vengeance; venues all over Ireland resounded to the sound of harps.
Harpers celebrated in Belfast where it coincided with the 25th anniversary of the Belfast Harp Orchestra. Galway saw an evening concert in the Crane preceded by a concert where established harpers were joined by more than twenty students at the City Museum; our thanks to its Director, Eithne Verling for extending hospitality to us. Music Generation harpers came out in force in Louth, Mayo and Laois. They were joined by established harpers, Gráinne Hambly, Laoise Kelly, Siobhán Buckley and Deirdre Ní Bhuachalla. Morning coffee drinkers were treated to an impromptu concert in the Milk Market in Limerick. Killarney and Bandon celebrated the increased numbers of harp players in workshops and concerts.
Third level institutions came in behind us with Limerick’s UL playing host to Fiana Ní Chonaill and friends, presented by Dr Sandra Joyce. DKIT heard young harpers from Louth at its Music Education conference. DIT Conservatory of Music harpers performed in the Powerscourt Centre in Dublin and the RIAM harpers joined us in the Lexicon in Dún Laoghaire – our special thanks to DLR Co Co and its Library Service, who gave us wonderful support throughout the day for the harp marathon, and where we heard a wonderful variety of performances including the beguiling sounds of the early harp.
Also in Dublin, the Traditional Music Archive welcomed a large audience to hear a marvellous display of harping from Tríona Marshall, Michelle Mulcahy and Anne-Marie O’Farrell presented by fellow harper, Áine Ní Dhubhghaill; many thanks to Grace Toland, Maeve Gebruers and the team there. Siobhán Armstrong and her group of early harpers performed at a lunchtime concert in Na Píobairí Uilleann, while Caitríona Rowsome and harper friends entertained audiences to an afternoon of harp music and stories about the life and times of Turlough Carolan in the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin. Michelle Mulcahy featured with her father and sister in the Cobblestone later on Saturday night, where the harp received star billing – thanks to Michelle.
Harpers in Wexford and Meath and Mullingar popped up in various local venues during the day and presented concerts in local arts venues in the evening. Armagh featured a variety of harp events throughout the day with the support of the Pipers Club while Na Píobairí Uilleann in Henrietta Street heard the strains of the early harp at a lunchtime concert there. Our thanks to the pipers for their ongoing support of the harp. The harp featured again at the Cobblestone where Michelle Mulcahy performed with her father and sister and commemorated the event.
Young Cairde na Cruite harpers gathered in the Pearse Museum and enthralled enthusiastic listeners, while both the National Gallery of Ireland and The Royal Irish Academy celebrated the harp in a series of lectures given by Mary Louise and Teresa O Donnell in the preceding days. These lectures brought the harp to an entirely different audience, who were fascinated by the music and wealth of knowledge displayed by Mary Louise and Teresa.
We were extremely fortunate to attract a lot of media attention for Lá na Cruite, due to the herculean efforts of Imelda Dervan, our coordinator, who came on board at short notice and who worked around the clock to make the event a success. She was ably assisted by teams all over the country making noise on social and local media. A particular thanks to Catriona Cannon who once again chimed in to coordinate some of the social media activity from afar and to Deirdre Granville who kept us ‘live’ from her hospital bed.
We were featured on the RTÉ news at 6 and at 9 while TG4 played us on all news bulletins. RTÉ lyricfm presenters gave us inestimable support, and seemed to have wall-to-wall harp music from dawn to the early hours. Our heartfelt thanks to Aodán Ó Dubhghaill and all at RTÉ lyric fm, while Toner Quinn and The Journal of Music of Ireland supported the event in its on-line journal. The Harp Ireland back room team, including secretary, Teresa O’Donnell and Assistant Treasurer, Aileen Kennedy burned the midnight oil night after night, as the event drew closer.
Finally, this national recognition of the harp would have been impossible without An Chomhairle Ealaíon, The Arts Council, who supported us with Traditional Arts DEIS Project funding. Harpers of Ireland are gratified by the consistent generous support that we have received from the Traditional Arts team. It has given us a huge morale boost and we hope that it will be the first of many national harp days. Ní neart go chur le chéile.
Read testimonials from the day
What They Said…
On National Harp Day
We’re a family of pluckers:
gut or nylon neo-levers,
wire-strung bardic cleavers.
From strummers tilting pints
in robust sessions, to demure
damsels crooning Moore
in floaty dresses. Drowsy
Maggie says move over
to ‘The Last Rose of Summer’.
And what of poor Rose Mooney
overtaken by Sydney Owenson?
As a Bunratty, Knappogue,
and Dun Guaire veteran,
who drank mead while tuning
and replacing strings
that snapped in dank halls
of mouldering castles
while tourists babbled,
Who trod willow boards,
played circuits of weddings,
functions, orchestral tours,
mountain top cremations,
judged harp contests in St. Louis
Missouri, recorded on albums
with curious titles (Maidens
of the Celtic Harp);
Who studied biases of antiquarians
opining Ossian, reclaiming blind
prophets with hoary beards
or sanguine bards on Welsh cliffs;
Who read travails of scholars
that failed to confirm the harp
of Trinity College as that
of great King Brian Boru. (It’s
fourteenth century, you know)
and the triangular form, is it Irish
or Scottish? At one time, weren’t
we nearly the same? Poor Carolan,
doing the job of three: composing,
declaiming, intoning, when Earls
took their retinues overseas,
reframed our jig in a classical
hybridity. And the muted strings
on Tara’s walls, that praised
the dexterous fingers
like that old diehard,
Gerald of Wales on
‘the art which conceals art.’
Today I am pleasantly disarmed:
No longer hanging silent,
the harp, again, is salient.
Emily Cullen is a Galway-based poet, harper, curator and scholar. She is the Programme Director of the Cúirt International Festival of Literature (www.cuirt.ie). Emily has published two collections of poetry: In Between Angels and Animals (Arlen House, 2013) and No Vague Utopia (Ainnir Publishing, 2003). She earned a Ph.D. in English from NUI Galway in 2008 and was awarded an IRC Government of Ireland Fellowship for her doctoral thesis on the Irish harp. In addition to her creative writing and harp performances, Emily publishes scholarly articles on Irish cultural history.
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