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Trip to Ireland (January 2002)

Ann Heymann has been, and continues to be, a motivating force in furthering our knowledge and understanding about early harps, specifically the ancient Irish wire strung instruments. She applied for and received a generous Jerome Foundation grant to travel to Ireland, with her harpmaker, (me), to document the harps extant in Dublin. We arranged the trip to happen during a slow travel and tourist time. The trip was a great success. We were given complete access to all of the harps in the National Museum of Ireland, the Trinity College, and the Guinness Brewery. We are very appreciative of the staff time that these institutions gave to us to make this possible.

The National Museum houses many harps, and always keeps a few them on public display. Admission is free. They had recently moved into spacious quarters at the old Collins Barracks, about two miles from the central museum building in the center of Dublin. This enabled more of these harps to come out of storage and be placed in displays. The harps that we examined were the Kildare harp, the Mullagh Mast harp, the so-called Carolan harp, (which Ann calls the Rose Mooney harp), the Sirr harp, and the Dalway fragments, now called the Cloyne harp. At the time, a reconstruction of the Cloyne by Robert Evans was on display there next to the original fragments. For enthusiasts of the lever harp, there is an Eagan harp, and two different McFalls, a larger one and a smaller one.

At the central Museum building we were able to examine the Ballinderry fragments, which have been mounted on a mock harp of the time period. In the same room is the St. Mogue shrine which has a likeness of a man playing a harp upon it, perhaps the first depiction of what could be considered the Irish harp as we have come to think of it.

At Trinity College, we were given the great honor of handling the national treasure of Ireland- the Trinity College harp. It normally stands in a glass case in the gallery of the old library, a marvelous space. The harp has been restored at least twice in a major way, and one begins to see the argument for not restoring. There were details, especially inside the soundbox, that I was curious about, but they had been obliterated by wooden blocking and resins, to push the harp back into a reasonable shape and make it sturdy for display. In this instance, however, I can see the rationale for the cosmetic work since, as I mentioned, this particular instrument is very much a national symbol.

Ann and Charlie Heymann, examining the pegs on the Trinity

Taking a look inside the Trinity Harp

The other harp held by the Trinity College is the Castle Otway harp. It is on display only when the Trinity College harp is away for some reason.

Finally, we visited the Guinness Brewery, early one morning. They are the owners of the Downhill harp. The reason for the early hour was that the harp is in the public visitor's center, in a sealed glass case. Glaziers had to be hired to open the case, and we had to be done so the harp could be sealed back into its case before the center opened to the public at 9:30 AM. It was worth the effort, though. The harp has great style, and there were many things to be learned from it. We thank Guinness for granting us this privilege, and hiring the glaziers, not to mention donating their regular staff time.

The team of Ann and Charlie and myself, and on occasion my wife Penny, collected many pages of measurements and observations. We hope to publish all of this in a way that will make it available to anyone with an interest.