Article Index


1988 The Challenge: The Linen Hall Library asks Janet to assembly a group of harpers to celebrate their Bicentenary

1992 The Launch of the Belfast Harp Orchestra

April - A First Concert Tour of Ireland

May - World Harp Festival, May 1992 celebrating the Bicentenary of the Belfast Harpers’ Assembly. Featuring in the Ulster Hall with the Chieftains at the Festival’s Opening Concert and featuring with Alain Stifle at the Closing Concert.

July - Tour to Brittany and feature at the Festival Internationale de l’Harpe Celtique at Dinan.  

August - Concert with the Chieftains at the Royal Festival Hall, London and recording of Album “The Celtic Harp”

Tour to the US to Milwaukee Irish Fest, the production of our first commercial Cassette and

October - featuring at the inaugural Hampsey Harp Festival in memory of Dennis Hempson of Garvagh, Co. L’derry.

1993 Tour to the US with the Chieftains, concerts in Boston Symphony Hall;BHO Columba yr

Kennedy Centre, Washington DC; Carnegie Hall, New York etc

March - Concert at Down Cathedral commemorating 1500 anniversary of St.Patrick

Easter - Tour to Edinburgh Harp Festival

June - Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album 1993 with Chieftains for “The Celtic Harp”

July - Top feature at the O’Carolan Harp Festival, Keadue, Co.Roscommon

December - The Christmas Cantata receives its premiere at Fisherwick Church, Belfast and Christchurch Cathedral, Dublin

1994 January tour of Ireland, concerts include The Christmas Cantata at Ballintubber Abbey (Co. Mayo), St.Bartholomews Cathedral, Galway and Down Cathedral

June - Tour to Germany, guests of the Bonn government for Bonn Somerfest.

September - Peace is declared and the Orchestra is invited to Great Britain. First concert at the Whitley Bay Playhouse in Newcastle on Tyne. The phenomenal success lead to:

1995 Expansion! The Harp Orchestra takes on Lambeg Drums and Bodhrans, Scottish Bagpipes and Uilleann Pipes, Fiddles, Flutes, Concertinas and Dancers. Janet composes the “Ulster Symphony”.

June - Janet Harbison is awarded the “Reverence for Difference” award at the “Emys” for her work with the Belfast Harp Orchestra. We move our office into Brookfield Mill on the Crumlin Road sandwiched between the Ardoyne and the Shankill….

November - Launch of CD “Carillon” with Alasdair McDonnell at Belfast City Hall – televised by both TV channels – and tour to Great Britain taking in Leeds, Liverpool, and London’s west end at St.James Church, Piccadilly. This tour caused a media sensation leading to:               

Lots of calls from British Booking Agents! Our fee goes up £250 each phone call! A tour is arranged for March and April, 1995 promoted by Roy Hastings. Tickets sell like hot-cakes until:

º The bombs go off in Canary Wharf and Lewisham and ticket sales disappear.

º The TV shows arranged to promote the tour in February and March: “Blue Peter”,

º “The Old Grey Whistle Test” and “Talking Telephone Numbers”, are all cancelled.

º A number of the concerts were badly affected by the news from Northern Ireland and our album distributor decides not to carry our goods and suggests we change our name.

Autumn  - The senior section of the Harp Orchestra renames itself “The Irish National Harp Ensemble” and goes on tour with the production “Spirit of the Dance”.

1997 -  January Concert with Fieldmarshall Montgomery Pipe Band and Tommy Sands with Vedran Smylovitch, the cellist of Sarajevo for opening of the Belfast Waterfront Hall.

We also launch the Harp Foundation (Ireland) Limited

Drury Communications taken on to manage our PR and Marketing.

March - “Blue Peter”, and we start rehearsing for the premiere of “The Columban Suite”

All year - The Colmcille Suite is premiered and performed in 22 concert venues throughout

Ireland and Scotland with community choirs from both traditions. Final concert in Belfast Waterfront Hall with choir of 500. Also launch of CD “Colmcille”.

From June  - Disastrous relationship with Drury. We have no results from their efforts, weterminate the arrangement and they bring court proceedings against us.

In the financial doldrums, staff is let go, Janet manages the office alone from September. It’s a difficult year but the show goes on.

1998  BHO features in interval film for BBC Young Musician of the Year

May - Launch of Festival of Bards, Limavady

June  - The Belfast Harp Festival moves into the Waterfront Hall

The Junior Orchestra tour to the Scottish Highlands

And we record “Celtic Harpistry” with Polygram

July - The BHO is invited by President Mary McAleese to participate in a 12th Day Celebration at Aras an Uachtarain, Dublin

August  - We film in Lismore Castle, Co. Waterford for American PBS TV Special

Polygram turn the programme into a commercial video production.

 1999 Local concerts and the BHO tours to Brittany to participate at the Festival Internationale de l’Harpe Celtique.

September - Recording again with the Chieftains in Glenarriff

December - Tour to Munich Philharmonic Hall

And featuring in Northern Ireland contribution to BBC Millennium Eve programme with pop singer, Brian Kennedy.

Patrick’s Day, BHO feature at special Millennial St.Patrick’s Day service  with eminent Anglican clergymen from all over the world in Down Cathedral, Downpatrick. BHO personally invited by Bishop Harold Millar.

St.Patrick’s afternoon: BHO feature at Gilford Fairy Folklore Festival at Gilford Castle, also on March 18

St.Patrick’s evening: BHO feature with Bill Whelan and Riverdance in a BBC St.Patrick’s special filmed at Carrickfergus Castle.

May - Our 3rd Blue Peter appearance on BBC


Lots of TV Features in Year 2000!  BHO dark sky

Millennium Brian Kennedy
Our last great engagement of the old millennium was featuring with pop star Brian Kennedy at Belfast City Hall for the BBC millennium programme from Northern Ireland going UK wide on millennium eve night.

Millennial St.Patrick      
The Belfast Harp Orchestra had a very busy millennial St. Patrick’s Feast!
In the morning-time, they were invited by Bishop Millar to perform at the St.Patrick’snDay service at Down Cathedral, Downpatrick where over 300 of the world’s most eminent Anglican clergy were present. In the afternoon, the BHO performed at the Gilford Fairy Folklore Festival at Gilford Castle, March 17 (also the following afternoon) and on St.Patrick’s evening, the BHO featured in a special BBC TV programme, including a starring performance with renowned singer Peter Corry, filmed from Carrickfergus Castle celebrating St.Patrick and Ireland’s cultural heritage.

Blue Peter BBC Wales & NHk Japan
Our second feature on Blue Peter was filmed from the Belfast Waterfront Hall in the BBC Millennium “Live Music Now” show broadcast in May; and in June,  the Belfast Harp Orchestra filmed for “Frank Hennessy’s Ireland”, a BBC Wales production. And our appeal is now filtering to the far east with a special feature on the BHO for a Japanese film company NHk which was filmed in September.

Our first "Best of BHO"       
October 10: Release of “The Best of the Belfast Harp Orchestra” compilation album in Germany on the Laika Records label. December 13-18: Major concert hall performances in Germany December 22-24: Concerts in the Basilica di San Martino, Magenta, Italy after which most of our members were marooned in Heathrow airport over Christmas thanks to a snowstorm. Ooops!

Spring ’01     
Unfortunately the Foot and Mouth disease outbreak causes the cancellation of our St.Patrick’s day concerts in Downpatrick, and our tour to the Scottish Highlands in Easter week – so all our energy is directed to a busy Autumn programme around all the major Arts venues in Northern Ireland… and new costumes and image for the BHO.

Year 2002
As life returns to normal after the traumas of 2001, and the BHO is busy performing in the summer with concerts at: Pheonix Park, Dublin (July 21st, a mid-afternoon open air concert in aid of the charity ‘A Nurse for Daniel’ (funding McMillan nurses for families with terminally ill children, set up by Janet’s brother); the finale concert of the Cambridge Music Festival (UK) on August 16th; and at the Camphill Community Glencraig on September 22nd for a world conference of the Rudolph Steiner organization (Janet is the President of the Steiner school in Holywood, Co.Down).

Last festival In Glencolmcille
Our last Glencolmcille Harp Festival took place in Glencolmcille, Co.Donegal the lastweek in July – as the Harp Foundation (our mother company) has a new home in Castleconnell, Co.Limerick in the mid-south-west of the Republic of Ireland.