About Scoil na gCláirseach

Ireland’s festival for the harp of the old Gaelic world

We invite you to immerse yourself in the music and traditions of Gaeldom's exquisite, ancient harp. Our aim is to share with you the ‘real deal’ of the music of the old harpers, exploring as much of their world as is now possible two centuries after the tradition died out.

N.B. We warmly welcome players of ALL kinds of harps to attend our 2021 festival.

What is this festival all about?

The festival vibe is of a local, national and international family who come together each year to encourage, help, and learn from each other. In joining us, you enter a world of enthusiastic, friendly people, excited about turning dusty pages into fresh, living music. Our knowledgeable community features many world experts in the field, all of whom want to share their expertise with you. If you ever wanted to dip a toe in the water of early Irish harping, then join us from the comfort of your own living room this July!

We will enable you to hear, play and sing the music familiar to Gaelic chieftains, and later, those in the Great Irish Houses, in which the early Irish harp was played alongside harpsichords, baroque violins, flutes and Irish pipes. 

Your immersion in our festival is designed to give you the skills to bring your own performances of historical Gaelic harp music gloriously alive as you might never have imagined before. If you are interested in seeing authentic, historical sources, and learning how to use these to turn old paper and ink into living, breathing music, then this festival will interest you – we go an inch wide, and a mile deep! If you are curious of mind as well as curious of finger, then this might be for you?

In 2021, we are celebrating – belatedly, because of the pandemic – the 350th anniversary of the birth of Ireland’s most famous early Irish harper, Turlough Carolan (1670–1738), with a festival focus on his music.

Find out more about the specifics of the festival on the ticketing page HERE

Scroll further down this page for more information on what makes us special...

Detail of an old Irish Harp

What is an early Irish harp?

The early Irish harp – wire-strung, with a melting, bell-like resonance – was the zenith of medieval Gaelic music culture, played in Ireland and in the Scottish Highlands & Islands, from the early Middle Ages until the years just after 1800, when it died out.

By the early sixteenth century, the early Irish harp came to symbolise Ireland itself, and is still depicted in the national emblem. It died out in the nineteenth century, replaced by the modern Irish harp (aka lever harp , Celtic harp, and clarsach), a different instrument.

The HHSI exists to promote this pre-colonial harp, which is also called cláirseach, clàrsach, Gaelic harp, old-Irish harp and wire-strung harp.

On Day 5, join us for a virtual museum visit to the world’s most significant collection of surviving historical Irish harps, guided in real time by two pre-eminent experts, Dr. Karen Loomis and Simon Chadwick. These harps are not on public display, so this is a unique opportunity to inspect famous, historic Irish harps from the comfort of your own home, wherever in the world you may be!

Who are the Scoil 2021 artists?

Our artists, tutors, lecturers and workshop leaders are at the forefront of their respective fields, internationally.

Listen to, and read about them, here
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Andrew Lawrence-King

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Breda Keville

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Carolin Margraf

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Ciarán Ó Gealbháin

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Eibhlís Ní Ríordáin

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James Ruff

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Jimmy O’Brien Moran

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Karen Loomis

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Natalie Surina

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Pádraic Keane

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Simon Chadwick

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Siobhán Armstrong

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Sylvia Crawford

What is special about Scoil na gCláirseach?

We explore the performance practices, traditions and history of the early Irish harp, giving you the skills you need to source, research, reconstruct, and play medieval to 18th-century music of Ireland and Scotland. We introduce you to the earliest harp-music manuscripts and printed sources, enabling you to discover as much as possible about the old traditions.

We teach historical playing techniques and idiom gleaned from harpers in the 1790s, just before the tradition died out – quite different to those used in modern Irish harping. In intensive players’ sessions, and workshops, we study the music of Turlough Carolan, Patrick Quin, Dennis O'Hampsay and others. 

We also connect you directly to living Irish music masters – pipers, fiddlers and singers – so that you can talk to them, listen to them demonstrate, and soak up their style to inform your own music-making.

Overall, we aim to steer you a little closer to plausible reconstruction – and fresh, confident performances – of old Irish harp music. Of course we will never know how close we are getting. But our hope is that the old harpers might listen, appeciate what we are trying to do, and perhaps say: "Níl sé sin romh olc ar fad [that's not too bad at all]!" 

Woman examining and antique Irish harp on display Two women with harps talking

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