Hitting the Right Notes: How the Harp Has Made Its Mark on Ireland

The harp has enjoyed longstanding prestige in Ireland. From the time when the Celts first came to Ireland to the late 18th century harpists, had an honorable place among musicians. Perhaps this can be attributed not only to the stringed-instrument’s melodious sounds but also to its age: Of all the musical instruments known today, the harp stand outs as one of the first to be created. It is believed that it was originally developed by modifying a hunting bow. It was also typically associated with the upper class who would have harpists come to their homes to play. Moreover, the instrument is often associated with Christianity and the angels who were depicted as harpists.

This level of honor and exposure helped to make it a symbol in Ireland. In the 16th century a picture of a harp was placed on the country’s currency by Henry VIII of England, who is said to have been a fan of the harp’s alluring music.

Today, the harp is Ireland’s national emblem and remains a symbol that many identify with the country, with scenes of harpists on hillsides often coming to mind. Along with these bucolic notions, it is also found in the logo for Ireland’s most well-known beverage, Guinness, and has even been trademarked by the government of Ireland—furthering its notoriety as a source of national pride.

Want to display a harp symbol in your own home? This Tower Centerpiece was created by famed Belleek Pottery as a part of their 160th Anniversary Collection. It features traditional Irish icons including the harp, shamrocks, a stone tower, and the Celtic cross. The limited edition piece is marked with a special anniversary stamp.



Informational source: International Harp Museum, internationalharpmuseum.org

11 thoughts on “Hitting the Right Notes: How the Harp Has Made Its Mark on Ireland”

  1. Enjoyed reading about the history of the harp and its connection to the Celts. Offering the harp as a pendant would make a nice addition to your catalog.

  2. Harpists were second only to the poets in the court rank and were required to have a proficient repertoire in each of three strains of music: suantrai (music to lull the king to sleep), geantrai (joyful music), and goiltrai (slow airs that take the sorrow out of you). This required great memory and manual skill. After 30 years of playing, I can tell you that still does!

  3. Am enjoying the bits of history that are being shared with your monthly newsletter! Keep up the good work!

  4. One of Ireland’s most renowned composers, O’Carolan, was a harper in many of Ireland’s high courts, and he was blind too.

  5. It’s a shame the picture selected to head this post is not of an Irish or Celtic-style harp, but of a concert pedal harp such as would be used in a symphony orchestra.

  6. That is so cool! I never realized that. I always wondered why they show Angels with a Harp. Thanks for that great story.

  7. It is great to know about the Irish harp’s background. I enjoyed hearing it immensely during a visit to Knappogue Castle, one time with my husband and one time with my sister. It’s meaning touches me in another way, as my Mother used to sing “The Minstrel Boy” to us, which, of course, is about the boy and his Irish harp.

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