We met a harper today—not someone who harps on you, but someone who plays the old Irish harps. Paul Dooley, who makes his own harps from scratch, came out to Davy’s today to teach us about the history of the Irish harp (which is one of Ireland’s national symbols and is found everywhere on products and in architecture) and also to play a little for us.
He showed us an ancient Welsh manuscript, which details the exact fingerings and notation for old Irish tunes. Harper tunes have mostly been lost, although the melodies continue in the oral tradition for other instruments such as the tin whistle and the fiddle.
If you look closely, you can see some of the notation. Most Irish tunes are written in two different chords, switching back and forth between the “1s” and the “0s.” Additional notes beside the melody are added in traditional music to create endless complexity.
This is the larger of the two harps Paul played for us. As you can probably see, it is larger than a lap harp and actually rests on the floor. Paul built this one by hand. It took him about six weeks.
I think the tale of harpers, who apparently were quite valuable in ancient Gaelic society (the reward for killing the king’s harper was only a few cows less than that of the queen), is a fascinating one. It’s pretty cool to have met a harper, which is really quite different than a concert harpist.
I’m hoping to have audio files up for you soon, so look for those to be posted in the next few days.