Historical Harp Society of Ireland – Project at the National Museum

RTE TV reports on new HHSI project at National Museum. Sinéad Crowley, RTE, interviews head of project, Dr. Karen Loomis, HHSI.

WATCH the TV news report

In Jan. 2020, the National Museum of Ireland kindly facilitated the HHSI, to undertake an important scientific survey of one of the historic Irish harps at the Museum. This kind of work – including 3-D laser scanning – is vital because there is so much we don’t know about the type of ancient Irish harp depicted in the national emblem.

The project is led by the HHSI’s Dr Karen Loomis (USA), the world’s leading organologist in the field, working with her research associate, the HHSI’s Simon Chadwick (UK), an expert in the history and material culture of the early Irish harp.

The small number of surviving historic early Irish harps comprise a rare, irreplaceable resource for current and future researchers. The surviving instruments also hold unique clues to historical musical performance practice, providing essential information for present-day musicians. With the originals in very fragile condition, modern harpists rely on replicas in order to try to emulate the original performances of the old Irish harpers.

The harp chosen by Dr Loomis for analysis was NMI DF:1986.2, the eighteenth-century Hollybrook harp. The work undertaken includes visual and microscopic assessment, a detailed photographic survey including infra-red and visible light fluorescence under UV illumination, construction analysis, and 3-D laser scanning to generate accurate external measurements and cross-sections.

The HHSI would like to thank the director and curatorial staff of The National Museum of Ireland for facilitating this project. The Society also gratefully acknowledges the Arts Council for their one-off support for this pilot project, which will raise the bar in the building of replicas for use by modern harpists who want to emulate the original music-making of the old Irish harpers.

The HHSI is excited to be working on this important area of research, and welcomes offers of philanthropic funding to allow more longer-term study of the other early Irish harps in the Museum.

Read more information on the Hollybrook harp inc. a 2019 report on the original Hollybrook harp by harp researcher and builder, Mike Billinge.

Photos: Simon Chadwick and Siobhán Armstrong