Historical Harp Society of Ireland

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Scoil na gCláirseach—Festival of Early Irish Harp 2018

We are now taking bookings! 

Dates: 15–21 August 2018
Venue: Coláiste Pobail Osraí in the medieval city of Kilkenny, Ireland.    

of €25 on the week rate if you book by 15 May 2018

and / or

of €25 on the week rate if you sign up with a friend who is new to the festival.

HHSI Associate Members receive a €30 discount on Player's fees 
paid in their year of membership. Join now at www.irishharp.org

Allan Macdonald (Scottish piper and singer), Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin (singer), Eibhlís Ní Ríordáin (singer), Paul Dooley (harpist) & Karen Loomis (lecturer) and also familiar faces: Siobhán Armstrong, Scoil director, Simon Chadwick, Scoil assistant director, Ann Heymann, Sylvia Crawford & James Ruff.

Our juicy, bursting-to-capacity programme includes the following


Ceòl Mór: The Big Music of Harp and Pipes [S. Chadwick, A. Heymann & A. Macdonald]

The Dawn of Day: Songs of the Harpers [S. Armstrong, E. Ní Ríordáin & Mícheál Ó Catháin]

Highlands and Lowlands: Sounds of Scotland [A. Macdonald & J. Ruff]

A Hidden Ulster: The Music of Oriel [P. Ní Uallacháin, S. Crawford & Darren Mhag Aoidh]


Passing on the tradition: learning old Irish harp repertory, style, and technique

Radiocarbon dating the Queen Mary harp (K. Loomis; virtual presentation live from Princeton, USA)

Exploring tuning strategies (P. Dooley)

A’ ghlas mheur [< the finger lock]: Adapting Piobaireachd to Cláirseach (A. Heymann)

Music, Ireland and the sixteenth century (S. Armstrong)

Emotion and Passion in Ceòl Mór: dealing with rhythm and tension in phrasing (A. Macdonald)

Lyons, O’Kane & O’Hampsey: The transmission of Eibhlín a Rún variation sets in the eighteenth century (S. Armstrong)


Intensive morning harp tuition 


Afternoon harp masterclasses

As ever, we also offer our unique, measured

* HHSI Student and HHSI Connemara harps for you to rent and play

* delicious, hot, vegetarian lunches cooked for us each day by our cook, Pat Glavin and

* a field trip to museum collections in Dublin to see surviving harps

Players: Join us for the complete festival programme, from 8.45 a.m. to 6.45 p.m. each day.
Auditors: Join us for part – or all – of any day to listen in on Players' sessions, workshops, lectures, masterclasses and concerts.
Field trippers: Join us for a day in Dublin, inspecting historic harps close-up, guided by world experts, on Tues. 21 August.

** * **

What's it all about? Informational video HERE
See the 2017 festival timetable HERE 

Booking information HERE                  

Contact us by email or phone: 

info@irishharp.org              +353 (0)86 8623430

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Kilkenny, Ireland.
16–22 August 


Some of us... [Photo: Leticia Prados]

And what a great festival we enjoyed thanks to the staff tutors, visiting lecturers and performers, administrative staff, concert goers, sponsors, funders and most importantly to the participants who came from Ireland, Europe and as far away as Japan and Australia to take part. Míle buíochas!

Festival Co-Director, Simon Chadwick, and I led the two strands of intensive hands-on sessions before lunch each day.  Sylvia Crawford (Armagh) took the Beginners under her wing for the week. Ann Heymann (USA) gave our Masterclasses each afternoon and James Ruff (USA) made his teaching debut at Scoil na gClairseach this year. We are delighted to welcome him to the team. 

This year, we sought out a new venue once more, one which could accommodate late-night opening so that participants can practise, socialise and play music in-house together. We were warmly welcomed to Coláiste Pobail Osraí, the Irish-language secondary school in the centre of town, opposite Kilkenny School of Music. So happy were we there that we have already booked it for the 2018 festival! Many thanks to Príomhoide, Cathnia Ó Muircheartaigh, Leas-Príomhoide, Madailin Mhic Lochlainn and school caretaker, Paul McDonald. We had spacious classrooms, well-equipped with projectors and white boards for classes and illustrated workshops. We had a central presentation / concert room, a dedicated eating space and a kitchen that made Pat Glavin, our amazing cook, very happy. And there was free on-campus parking. As Paul McDonald was often heard to say: “Happy Days!” 

This year saw a change of name: from ‘summer school’ to ‘festival’. This is an indication of our intention to be more accessible – and to engage more actively – with the public each day than in the past. With this in mind, instead of one public concert in Kilkenny, we had four in-house Summer Evening concerts at 5.30 p.m. serving pre-dinner drinks and nibbles to the guests before the performances. Next year’s festival will also see an expansion of public involvement into the earlier part of each day, with a stronger invitation than ever before to outside auditors to attend festival lectures, talks, workshops and walk-in hands-on events.

[Photo: Leticia Prados] 
We played big, eighteenth-century Irish harps...

...and smaller, medieval Irish harps...

On the last day –Tues. 22 August – we had our annual field trip to Dublin to see surviving early Irish harps in museum and private collections. This is always a thrill for staff and students alike – a chance to see the instruments which are not on public display but which we can access, examine and photograph on our private tour once a year. My thanks to the staff in the Guinness Storehouse, the Old Library, Trinity College and to those at the National Museum for their generosity and helpfulness to us each year.

Each concert featured a harpist: Simon Chadwick (Scotland), Ann Heymann (USA) and me, Siobhan Armstrong (Kilkenny). A further concert was the Irish debut of historical harper, James Ruff (USA). It’s marvellous to see the national and international early Irish harp revival advance sufficiently that we are starting now to see the Irish debuts of public performers who are new to us. 

Simon Chadwick gave us a re-imagining of medieval ceremonial music for the Lords of the Isles; Ann Heymann played virtuosic 18th-century variation sets; I collaborated with Éamonn Ó Bróithe on the songs & instrumental music of the Connellon brothers from Sligo, and also the repertory of the harper, Dominic Mungan, which ranged from hymn tunes to Handel arias to his own song: 'An raibh tú ag an gCarraig?’; and James Ruff played some of the most ancient and most modern repertory in the Bunting Irish harp manuscripts from the end of the 18th-century. 

Three of the harpists had a guest at their concerts: Sean-nós singers, Éamonn Ó Bróithe (Galway) & Eibhlís Ní Ríordáin (Wicklow), sang harpers’ songs & songs of the Déise (Co. Waterford) respectively, and historical piper Ronan Browne (Connemara), played his rare 1760s Irish pipes, the only working set in Ireland of which I know. I am delighted to say that we had up to full-house attendance at these events. 

Some of the staff (and many of the participants too) play more than harps…

[Photo: Eva Sanchez Carreres]
My own talks, lectures and workshops centred around the modal nature of the harp repertory, a timeline of elusive bass-hand performance practice (my PhD research topic), and what being an HIP (historically informed performance) harpist entails.

In addition to my contributions, our song class, workshops, talks and lectures this year were deftly led by Eamonn Ó Bróithe, Ronan Browne, Ann Heymann, Sylvia Crawford and Simon Chadwick.

The Library at the Queen's University Belfast kindly allows us to show – and work on with the Scoil participants – pages from the all-important late-eighteenth century Bunting harp manuscript collection, for which they hold the copyright.

Éamonn Ó Bróithe taught the fluent Irish speakers an 18th-century harpers’ song in the song class while I taught the non-Irish speakers an unfamiliar archive version of the famous Déise song ‘Cill Chais’. 

Sylvia Crawford is completing an MA on the harper, Patrick Quinn, and gave an insightful talk on her research so far, which has uncovered previously unknown information about the 18th-century Armagh harper. 

Ronan Browne woke the audience’s ears up to early 20th-century archive recordings, teaching active-listening skills and showing technological software that can help the listener to learn from old performances. 

I presented a workshop on the earliest Irish song to appear in print and shared with the students an even older version – complete with lyrics set under the notes – which I recently recognised in a turn-of-the-18th-century manuscript of European art music compiled by Johann Sigismond Cousser (Kusser), Master of the King’s Music in Ireland. 

Ann Heymann gave a talk and workshop on Irish and Welsh historical harp techniques.

Simon Chadwick compared the sound, ergonomics and musical possibilities of medieval v. later early Irish harps. In other presentations he spoke about attempted early Irish harp revivals of the 19th- and early 20th centuries, and revisited key source manuscripts of core repertory based on work he has done over the last year for his newly published book.

[Photo: Mícheál Ó Catháin]

Simon Chadwick brought his wonderful Early Gaelic Harp Emporium to tempt us with books, recordings and more...

Pat Glavin, our in-house cook, worked his vegetarian magic once more, treating us to everything from ‘Indonesian Day’ to ‘Indian Day’ to ‘Sunday Roast Day’ using locally-sourced ingredients, freshly cooked for us each day. Pat also produced utterly delicious cakes and desserts for our afternoon tea breaks. This year’s new addition was that he also produced the drinks and hors d'oeuvres for our Summer Evening Concert series. The foodie aspect of this summer festival is really not to be under-estimated! 

Simon Chadwick is my Assistant-Director; Sylvia Crawford is our Financial Administrator and Maura Walsh did our PR for the Summer Evening Concert series. In addition, this year, Ashling Slater was our very hard-working administrative assistant, a new position that we are anxious to expand to other areas of our year-round work. Ashling's presence made the running of the festival considerably less taxing than in previous years. 

Our detailed timetable can be perused here: http://www.irishharpschool.com/timetable.htm Also check out our youtube channel for some of this years’ (and other years’) Scoil workshops and presentations, which will shortly be available to view online here: https://www.youtube.com/user/historicalharp   
We are grateful to harper and film-maker, Mícheál Ó Catháin, who has worked so hard, over the course of the festival, to document our events. Maith thú, a Mhícheál! 

Enormous thanks to the individuals and organisations who enable Scoil na gClairseach–Early Irish Harp Festival to exist and grow:

An Chomhairle Ealaíon (The Arts Council of Ireland); our patron, Jane Carter; Kilkenny County Council; Music Network and the Dept of Arts, Heritage and the 
Gaeltacht; HHSI Gold, Red Brass and Yellow Brass Supporters; HHSI Associate & Scoil na gCláirseach Members; Paul McDonald and Coláiste Pobail Osraí; Maura Walsh & Galway Early Music; The National Museum of Ireland; The Old Library, Trinity College, Dublin; The Guinness Storehouse, Dublin; John Elwes, John O’Neill and Frank Colcord. A complete list of our Supporters can be seen here: http://www.irishharp.org/supporters.htm

My particular thanks to the administrative team: Simon Chadwick, Sylvia Crawford, Ashling Slater and Maura Walsh, who worked tirelessly with me before, during and after the festival this year. 

Our 2018 festival will take place at Coláiste Pobail Osraí, Kilkenny, Ireland 15-21 August 2018. 
Bígí linn – come and join us if you can! 

Best wishes,

Siobhán Armstrong
Director, Scoil na gCláirseach—Festival of Early Irish Harp


The HHSI is kindly funded by 
An Chomhairle Ealaíon, 
Music Network and the Dept. of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, 
Kilkenny County Council 

and also by our Members, Supporters and Patron.

Friday, September 02, 2016

Director's report 2016

Scoil na gCláirseach 2016 took place this year in the illustrious surroundings of St. Kieran’s College in Kilkenny, founded in 1782 and situated in its own spacious grounds. For the first time in our fourteen years, students had the possibility of being accommodated on campus and many commented on how lovely it was to be together in the evenings for music-making and socialising. Enormous thanks to St. Kieran’s for making it possible for us to be there.

Our theme this year was the music of Arthur Ó Néill, the early Irish harper and Belfast Harp Society teacher who played in Belfast in 1792 with the other harpers attending the Harpers’ Assembly that year, and who died 200 years ago this year, in 1816. Dr. Colette Maloney of Waterford Institute of Technology was our guest speaker at the opening on Wednesday, 17th August, outlining for us the major milestones in Ó Néill’s life.

The Scoil staff tutors – Ann Heymann [USA], Siobhán Armstrong [IRL], Simon Chadwick [Scotland] and Sylva Crawford [IRL] – explored his harp music and songs over the next five days in intensive classes, workshops and masterclasses.

We were joined by erudite and entertaining guest tutors and lecturers for our post-lunch General and Advanced lectures and workshops each day. Piper Ronan Browne, singers Róisín Elsafty and Éamonn Ó Bróithe, organologist Dr Karen Loomis and harp builder Natalie Surina all dealt with the most diverse subjects, which have relevance to our field. Read about the presentations in our timetable here: http://www.irishharpschool.com/timetable.htm

Particularly memorable for me this year were Simon Chadwick’s groundbreaking presentations on his new ideas about historical stringing parameters for medieval Irish harp and the repertoire that ought to be considered for the instrument. Also Ronan Browne’s use of archive recordings from the late 19th- and early 20th-century to wake up our ears to questions of style in the performance of historical Irish music.

One of our two commissioned Connemara Rose Mooney harps, built for us by Natalie Surina, was ready in time for students and staff to enjoy playing it at the Scoil for the first time. Nails v. no nails was a thread running through the Scoil this year, given that we were dealing with 18th-century music, and this was the ideal instrument on which to contrast the different approaches.

Once more, Míchéal Ó Catháin joined us to record Scoil events for the Irish Traditional Music Archive. We remain delighted that ITMA is now archiving the work of the summer school each year and sending an early Irish harper to do the filming!

We were also delighted to welcome Sarah Cunningham from Music Network to our final Student Platform on Monday 23rd August. Sarah came to hear students playing our Student harps; a resource available to us only because of Music Network’s kind support over the last number of years, administering capital funding from An Chomhairle Ealaíon  and the Dept. of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

Pat Glavin, our wonderful cook, produced many delicious lunches for us again this year, one of the agreed highlights of which was his Indonesian spicy squash and coconut soup starter on Saturday 20th August!

The National Museum of Ireland, Trinity College Dublin and the Guinness Storehouse kindly facilitated our visits to them on our field trip to Dublin on Tuesday, 23rd August, to see as many of the surviving early Irish harps as it is possible to see in one day. This is always a Scoil na gCláirseach highlight with new discoveries about the instruments made each year by students and staff members alike.

Enormous thanks to all who made Scoil na gCláirseach possible this year: An Chomhairle Ealaíon; our patron, Jane Carter; Fáilte Ireland & IPB Insurance; Kilkenny County Council; Music Network and the Dept of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht; our HHSI Yellow Brass Supporters, Associate Members, Scoil students and auditors; Maura Ó Cróinín & Galway Early Music; John O’Neill and St. Mary’s Cathedral; The National Museum of Ireland; The Old Library, Trinity College, Dublin; the Guinness Storehouse; and John Elwes. A complete list of our Supporters can be seen here: http://www.irishharp.org/supporters.htm

My particular thanks to Scoil Assistant Director, Simon Chadwick and HHSI Treasurer and Scoil administrator, Sylvia Crawford, who both work tirelessly to administrate Scoil na gCláirseach with me; to Natalie Surina, our administrator at St. Kieran’s during Scoil na gCláirseach; and to Maura Ó Cróinín, our PR officer for 2016 HHSI summer events.

To get a flavour of the 2016 summer school, you can shortly have a look at our photo album here, once we upload a selection of photos:  http://www.irishharpschool.com/2016/photos

Best wishes,

Siobhán Armstrong

Director, Scoil na gCláirseach—Summer School of Early Irish Harp

Chair, Historical Harp Society of Ireland

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Monday, April 18, 2016

The 14th annual 
Scoil na gClairseach—Summer School of Early Irish Harp 
17-23 August 2016


From our very first summer school, in 2003, Scoil na gCláirseach has generously been hosted each year by Kilkenny School of Music. The HHSI wishes to thank Philip Edmondson, Director, for his generosity to us, and for so many memorable years at KSM.

Scoil na gCláirseach 2016 will take place in our new, historic venue: 

St. Kieran’s College
College Rd.
Co. Kilkenny 

on the opposite side of the road, and just a little further out, from where we’ve been in the past.

Founded in 1782, St. Kieran’s is situated on a wonderful, spacious campus with ample free parking for students arriving by car, and quick access by foot to shops, restaurants, tourist attractions and accommodation.

Kilkenny is a medieval city which has a rich heritage of fine historical buildings, a great choice of restaurants, wonderful shops, lively night-life, and is an all year round tourist destination. Within 90 minutes of Dublin airport, the city is serviced with an intercity bus service and rail link. The nearest ferry port is Rosslare. For further information please see the Kilkenny City & County website.


In-house, self-catering accommodation - at very reasonable rates - is available at St. Kieran’s College, in the purpose-built facility on the campus. The rooms are single [some with private bathroom; some with shared bathroom], with communal living areas and kitchen facilities. Please contact us for more information or if you would like to reserve a room.

Also free free to design your own accommodation package for your stay in Kilkenny: from the budget-priced Kilkenny Tourist Hostel (do tell them that you are coming to study with us; they know us well and will look after you!) to friendly B&Bs and guest houses all the way to beautiful luxury hotels. More info from visitkilkenny.ie.

More information on all aspects of Scoil na gCláirseach—Summer School of Early Irish Harp can be found here

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Director's Report - Scoil na gCláirseach 2015

People are saying it was our best year yet! Scoil na gClairseach—Summer School of Early Irish Harp 2015 was officially opened on 19th August by our patron, Jane Carter. We had teenage and adult students from as far away as the USA, Russia and Japan, together with UK and continental students, local and other Irish participants. They ranged from those who had never touched a musical instrument before to professional players.

The Scoil saw a shake-up to its format this year, which seemed to work very well: Each day until lunchtime, Sylvia Crawford (North of Ireland) tutored the Basic Tunes and Techniques class. Assistant Scoil director, Simon Chadwick (Scotland), added to his in-house lecturer role this year by being the main class tutor for the Manuscript Sources and Theoretical Concepts class, while I concentrated on teaching the Advanced Tunes and Reconstructions class. Ann Heymann (USA) worked with both the Tunes and Manuscripts classes, gave individual time to students whom we felt could benefit from that, and also became our main Masterclass tutor, giving both public and private masterclasses.

In the afternoons and evenings we had presentations given by an array of prestigious, visiting scholars, who joined the in-house staff in presenting papers, more informal talks and workshops. Virginia Blankenhorn, from Edinburgh University, joined us for the first time, giving us a particularly interesting talk on singing poetry well (and badly!) in Irish. Carrying on the vocal theme, we felt fortunate to have Connemara sean-nós singer Róisín Elsafty teach the students a harper’s song in Irish this year, at our Song workshop, from her growing collection of this repertoire.

Piper Ronan Browne gave one of the most interesting Scoil presentations we’ve had in recent years: guiding us through 17 archive recordings of traditional Irish musicians from the 1890s onwards. Some of these performers were born in the 1830s so they were not very many generations removed from the world of the late 18th-century Irish harpers. Some eureka moments to be had in comparing these performances with the evidence of early Irish harp performance practice captured in Edward Bunting’s MS transcriptions from the harpers of a few decades before.

We were really delighted to welcome American harpist and scholar, Nancy Hurrell, to the Scoil for the first time this year. Nancy gave a lively and erudite presentation on the harps built for the students of the early 19th-century early Irish harp revival societies. We all look forward to her book on the work of the talented harp builder John Egan, who worked and invented tirelessly in the early decades of the 19th century.

Karen Loomis gave us her latest, fascinating insights into the organological world of the Lamont and Queen Mary harps, which she has been studying now for some years. I warmly congratulate her on her recent award of a PhD in the area of early Irish harp studies, the very first Scoil attendee to progress this far. We interrupted her talk to celebrate the great event with bubbly!

We were delighted that, in addition to student players, we had local, national and international auditors, including for one day, early Irish harper and harp builder, Paul Dooley, who is nearing completion of a PhD at the University of Limerick.

We were treated to five outstanding lunches by our cook, Pat Glavin, who is our secret inverse pied piper, enticing students towards us rather than away from us! Mexican day, Indonesian day, French day complete with cheeseboard etc…I accept that some students may be coming back, year after year, simply for the stunning home-cooking!

We had our annual, fascinating trip to Dublin on the last day, to pore over, examine in detail and photograph many of the surviving harps held in museum collections.

Our complete timetable of events can be seen here:

Ann Heymann  and I gave in-house solo concerts during the Scoil. In addition, thanks to the largesse of the Arts Council’s Deis Traditional Arts funding scheme, the HHSI was able to present a public concert in Kilkenny, during the summer school, as part of our greater HHSI Summer Concert Series 2015, which took us to Galway, Dublin, and for the very first time, Belfast, in the days after Scoil na gCláirseach.

The Connemara sean-nós singer, Róisín Elsafty, joined myself and Ann on this tour around Ireland, performing 17th- and 18th-century harpers’ songs. Ronan Browne was also a concert performer this year, playing music from the Bunting MSS on his unique 1760 Kenna pipes.

To get a flavour of the 2015 summer school, you can shortly have a look at our photo album here, once we upload a selection of photos:   http://www.irishharpschool.com/2015/photos

You can also visit us at http://www.irishharp.org, where you can see the lovely promo short that cinematographer Carlo d'Alessandro and the Scottish company, Siubhal, put together about our summer school.

I would like to thank the following people for their help and support with Scoil na gCláirseach—Summer School of Early Irish Harp 2015:

An Comhairle Ealaíon/The Arts Council who have financially supported us through their Festivals and Deis schemes; Music Network and The Dept. of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, who have funded the purchase of harps for our student performers; our patron Jane Carter, and the Supporters and Members, who kindly support our work. Our complete Supporters list can be seen here: http://www.irishharp.org/supporters.htm

Our thanks to Jennifer Gough and The National Museum of Ireland; The Guinness Storehouse; The Old Library, Trinity College Dublin; Philip Edmondson and Kilkenny School of Music; John O’Neill and St. Mary’s Cathedral, Kilkenny; Catherine O’Connor, OPW and the parish of St. Audoen’s Church, Dublin; Crescent Arts Centre, Belfast; Galway Arts Centre; Maura Uí Chróinín and Galway Early Music; Jury’s Inn, Christchurch, Dublin; Kilkenny County Council, Fáilte Ireland and IPB INsurance; John Elwes; Oisín Hahessy.

I would also like to give my most heartfelt thanks to the incredibly hard-working HHSI team behind Scoil na gCláirseach and the HHSI Summer Concert Series: HHSI Hon. Sec. and Scoil Assistant Director, Simon Chadwick; Sylvia Crawford, Treasurer and Administration;  and Natalie Surina, PR and Administration.

Finally, I would like to thank each student and auditor who joined us in Kilkenny, making the whole week possible.

Best wishes,

Siobhán Armstrong

Director, Scoil na gCláirseach—Summer School of Early Irish Harp

Chair, Historical Harp Society of Ireland