The Irish Harp Today: Ancient, Diverse and Still Evolving

A paper presented to the Crossroads Conference, University of Ulster, Coleraine, April 2003 on the subject: Education in Traditional Music


Many challenges face musicians in the world of Irish music today.  Great debates are animated on issues of traditionality, on modernisms, on new instruments, on old, on many aspects of classical versus traditional, on playing techniques, wrist positions, on bow holds, on flute keys, on the modes, on sharpened 7ths in the minor keys, on flat instruments in sessions, on the names of ornaments, on the criteria of judgement in examinations and competitions, on methods of teaching orally, on systems of notation, on the acceptability of particular instruments – and on the rainbow of vagaries concerning Irish harping.  This paper examines diversity in Irish harping today with the prejudices and challenges facing particular aspects.

 Ancient and Diverse, The Irish Harp Today Download


Harpers, Harpists or Harpees?

pub. Crossroads Conference 1996 Proceedings, pub.Whinstone Music 1999, pp 94-100. A paper presented to the Crossroads Conference, Dublin 1996 addressing the dilemma of the place and identity of the harp in Irish music-making. Conference subject: Tradition and Change in Irish Traditional Music


The Irish harp often finds itself lying awkwardly between traditions, expectations and prejudices. The dilemma is in its place and identity in Irish music making and the debacles lie between thte energetic revivalists, the romantic sentimentalists and historical purists. Here in its own microcosm, folk versus classical, oral versus literate, court versus kitchen, old versus new, history versus innovation This presentation explores the dilemmas and poses the question as to why we view the issues of history, place, tradition and identity in our music-making with such importance.

Harpists Harpers and Harpees Download


The Legacy of the Belfast Harpers

pub. Ulster Folklife, pp 113-128, vol.35 (1989)


With the approaching bicentenary of the Belfast Harpers’ Festival of 1792m the legacy of that event will undoubtedly be freshly evaluated. This paper attempts to examine the contribution of Edward Bunting, the transcriber appointed to the festival, to the history of Irish music, to examine his role in the augmentation of the nationalist spirit through the last two centuries and to quantify its value as a major resource of information and music relevant to the Irish harp tradition. After an introductory section, the Bunting legacy is considered in two parts: The first deals with his published works and their contribution to the compositions of Thomas Moore. The second deals with this unpublished manuscript collection.

The Belfast Harpers' Festival of 1792,
pub. Ireland of the Welcomes, pp 18-22, March 1992

Bunting and the Belfast Harpers' Festival of 1792,
pub. Linen Hall Review, pp 23-25, Vol.3, No.3 (1986)

Setting the Scene in Ireland for the Belfast Harpers Festival 1792,
pub. Linen Hall Review, pp 10-11, Vol.3, No.2 (1986)

Thanks for the Music
pub. Treoir (Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann) 1990

Music News, Trinity Gazette
pub. Trinity College, Dublin 1977-80, Music Correspondent

The Recreating of the Merry Organ
pub. Trinity Gazette, pp 8-9, Vol.15, No.5 (1978)


Conference Papers include:

The Blackrock Society, Annual proceedings 2009 "The Irish Harp, a Contemporary Perspective"

  • The Crossroads Conference 2003 “The Irish Harp Today: Ancient, Diverse and Still Evolving”
  • The Crossroads Conference 1996, Tradition and Change in Irish Traditional Music “Harpists, Harpers or Harpees?”
  • American Committee for Irish Studies 1990, 1993 Annual Conference, Guest Speaker
    • ICTM (International Council for Traditional Musics) between 1982 - 86
    • “From Court to Kitchen: 4 centuries of the Irish Harp”;
    • “The Legacy of the Belfast Harper’s Assembly 1792”
    • “The Edward Bunting Manuscript Collection: Reconstructing the Harpers’ Music
  • Royal Irish Academy & Die Europa Zentrum, Tubingen, 1979 Conference: The Irish in Europe in the Early Middle Ages:
    “Exploring the Harp Memoir of Giraldus Cambrensis 1182”
  • Ulster Folk & Transport Museum 1988: Perceptions in Ulster’s Music Traditions:
    “The Harp: between stools or astride both?”


Educational Books:

  • Traditional Irish Harp Tutors, Levels 1-4 (Irish Harp Centre Publications 2005-6)
    Also, Juniors and Adult's Introductory Tutor Books 2008
  • Traditional Dance Music of Ireland (Ulster Folk & Transport Museum 1991)

    Workbooks supporting G.C.S.E. music curriculum in Ulster for students and teachers:
  • Drowsy Maggie (UFTM 1991) Work-book for GCSE set works 1992-3
  • The Battle of Aughrim (UFTM 1989) Work-book for GCSE set works 1990-1

Chapter contribution:

  • Notes for Adjudicators, pub. Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann (1987)


  • Learning the Irish Harp (2016)
  • The Music Collection at the Ulster Folk Museum (1991)
  • Indexing a Folk Music Collection (1990)
  • The Variety of Ulster Folksong (1987)
  • Children's Songs and Games in Ulster (1987)
  • Introducing you to Irish Dance Music (1986)
  • Introducing you to Irish Court Music (1986)