The NMI Carolan Harp

harp in the Book of the Club of True HighlandersRose Mooney’s harp

This page gathers and summarises information about archaeological, organological and materials analysis of the Carolan harp (also sometimes called the Rose Mooney harp) in the National Museum of Ireland.

C. N. McIntyre North1 was the first to publish any information about this harp. As well as the rather sketchy illustration with the caption “Part of Carolan harp: Museum of Royal Irish Ac”, he gives the following description:
“Another harp, called Carolan’s harp (the head of which is shown), has the original plates for the pins, but some ordinary screws have been screwed into the wood to take the bearings of the strings. The sound holes of this are large, and at the back; the pins are thirty-seven in number; the longest string being 38 inches, the shortest 2 3/4 inches.”

Robert Bruce Armstrong1 in 1904 printed a couple of pages of information about this harp. He includes a line drawing, a technical description, and some quite detailed measurements.

I wonder if he did not see the harp in person, but relied on a photograph and measurements sent him by someone in Dublin.

In 1969, Joan Rimmer printed some technical information in her book2. She included a side-view photo and a back-view photo on pages 62-3 (plates 31-2), and then in the ‘Index of Extant Irish Harps’ on p.75 she says:
“Carolan harp
...Forepillar, neck and one-piece soundbox of sycamore...”
These wood identifications were done for Joan Rimmer by Maura Scannell3. Rimmer also published some dimenions in a footnote to her 1987 article4.

Robert Evans studied the harp NMI DF.1945-122 in the 1980s or 90s. The only published comment of his I have found is that the soundbox base is “lobed rather like the downhill harp”5

Natalie Surina studied the harp DF:1945-122 in 2014. She presented some of her findings in a lecture at Scoil na gCláirseach in Kilkenny in August 2016, describing the process of inspecting and measuring the original at the National Museum of Ireland, and building copies based on her researches. Natalie discovered that the harp has small front soundholes; she described her discovery and showed a photograph of these soundholes in her talk. The talk was videoed in full:

I studied the NMI Carolan harp in 2018-19. My technical analysis of its design, construction, use and damage, has been published:
Simon Chadwick, ‘Provenance and recording of an eighteenth-century harp’ The Galpin Society Journal LXXIII, March 2020, p.85-110 & 199-201.

Michael Billinge has written up some notes on his website comparing the NMI Carolan harp with the description of Rose Mooney’s harp.

Simon Chadwick


1. Charles Niven McIntyre North, Leabhar Comunn nam Fior Ghael (The Book of the Club of the True Highlanders) vol.1, (London: Richard Smythson, 1881) ^

1. Robert Bruce Armstrong, The Irish and The Highland Harps, Edinburgh 1904, p.83-4 ^

2. Joan Rimmer, The Irish Harp (Mercier Press 1969) ^

3. Loomis et al, ‘Reidentifying the wood of the Queen Mary and Lamont harps’, Early Music vol 43 no.4, 2015, p.624 & footnote19 on p.633 ^

4. Joan Rimmer, ‘Patronage, style and structure in the music attributed to Turlough Carolan’, Early Music vol. 15 no. 2, May 1987, footnote 40, p.174 ^

5. Robert Evans, ‘A copy of the Downhill harp’, Galpin Society Journal vol. 50, 1997, footnote 1, p.119 ^