The Gaelic harp has a long and rich history. It has its origins in Ireland and the Scottish Highlands and Islands over a thousand years ago, and even as late as the 19th century, harps with brass strings were still used in vain attempts to keep the tradition alive.

Derricke, Image of Irelande

In medieval Ireland and Scotland, harp music was the highest status art form along with learned poetry. In the 16th century, Elizabethan English noblemen employed Irish harpers and commissioned Gaelic harps for their households. In the 17th century, Irish harpers could be found playing in royal courts across Europe.

But by the 18th century, its modal and diatonic music had fallen from fashion; its place as the national instrument of Ireland and Scotland, and its names cruit and clàrsach were taken in the 19th century by the newly-invented gut-strung lever harp.

Ann heymann wih her gold-strung replica medieval harp

Now, since the 1970s, musician-scholars have been rediscovering the historical techniques, idiom, and repertory, and once again Gaelic harps strung with brass, silver and gold can be heard.

These short articles here give a general overview of the development of the Gaelic harp over 1500 years. Some have detailed footnotes; others are work in progress. If you want more information I provide a detailed list of books and scholarly articles. Many of the books are available to purchase through my Emporium.

Simon Chadwick