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Sources for early Gaelic harp music

None of the old harpers wrote any of their music down. We have to search for the old Gaelic harp repertory in secondary sources.

The sources listed here preserve Gaelic harp tunes. The music of the harpers passed into other instrument traditions, where it did get written down, such as in fiddle and lute manuscript tunebooks. Some of the old harp tunes were arranged and published in music collections for fiddle, flute or harpsichord. From near the end of the tradition, we have field notations live from the playing of old harpers, written down in the 1790s by Edward Bunting.

You can have great fun chasing a tune from one source to another to see how different sources handle it differently. One of the most exciting challenges is to compare different versions of a tune to try and reconstruct the lost underlying original harp version.

I am sure there is a lot missing from this list. I know of other manuscripts and printed books that contain the odd harp tune here and there. There may well be other tunes in other books that we don’t realise were originally harp tunes. We know that a big part of the harp tradition was playing to accompany the performance of Gaelic song or poetry, and so there must be songs extant which were originally part of the harp tradition too.

Simon Chadwick

c.1600-1650
 Straloch ms
 Skene ms
 Wemyss ms
c.1650-1700
 Balcarres ms
 Lyra-viol mss
c.1700-1750
 Sinkler ms
 J&W Neal
 Carolan fragment
 James Oswald
 MacFarlane ms
 Burk Thumoth
c.1750-1800
 Dow
 Lee
 Patrick MacDonald
 John Bowie
 Ó Néill mss
 Bunting mss
c.1800-1850
 Maclean-Clephane
 Fraser