Saturday 18 January 2020

Harp playing in Ireland prepares for global status

SYMBOL: Katie Crean plays the harp at the Rose of Tralee
SYMBOL: Katie Crean plays the harp at the Rose of Tralee

Alan O'Keeffe

Irish harping may soon be awarded global recognition. While the harp is the official symbol of Ireland, Irish harping was once in danger of becoming extinct.

Now the Government is preparing an application to a United Nation's cultural body to have Irish harping globally recognised as being important to the cultural life of humanity.

A national effort has begun to have Irish harping inscribed on the Unesco Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

'Intangible cultural heritage' is defined as living forms of heritage that are central to the lives and identities of communities, groups and individuals.

At present, uilleann piping is the only aspect of Irish culture awarded global recognition.

Hurling is under consideration by Unesco.

Global recognition of harping in Ireland would be a milestone in the restoration of an important Irish tradition.

In the Middle Ages, the 1,000-year-old tradition of harping in Ireland was widely celebrated and harpists had a high status in Irish society.

But Queen Elizabeth I issued a proclamation to hang Irish harpists and destroy their instruments to prevent insurrection.

In the 1650s, Cromwell ordered all harps and organs throughout Ireland to be destroyed. In Dublin alone, the authorities confiscated 500 harps and burned them.

By the late 1700s, Irish harping was almost extinct. A Church of Ireland organist, Edward Bunting, was commissioned to transcribe music at the Belfast Harp Festival of 1792 and he embarked on a successful lifelong mission to preserve Irish harp music from extinction.

Aine Ni Dhubhghaill is chairperson of Cairde na Cruite which has worked successfully since 1960 to revive harp playing. She is a steering committee member of Cruit Eireann - Harp Ireland, a new island-wide organisation.

Groups and individuals have responded to the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht invitation to assist the State's application for Unesco recognition.

"It's been a massive undertaking for the last couple of weeks. A couple of thousand letters have been written. The application is going to Paris for adjudication," she said.

"Germany has been awarded status for the organ," she added.

"Our jigs and reels are, of course, considered as traditional Irish music but the harping tradition goes back so much further.

"We have harps depicted on high crosses going back to the 10th and 11th centuries."

She said the harp had enthusiasts throughout the island, including Northern Ireland, and was a unifying symbol.

For hundreds of years, harps appeared on Irish flags.

"I was thinking of starting a campaign to get the Irish harp on the national flag but I would have to make sure it wouldn't offend," Ms Ni Dhubhghaill said.

Sunday Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News