Ireland’s Harps

Name the musical instrument associated with Ireland. 

I know, I already told you by the title. The instrument of kings has a special place in Ireland and its history.

It’s March 15th and the day Gazette665 goes green for a week-long trip to Ireland. We’ll start the week with some history of Ireland and then come back to the United States and discuss immigration and Irish/American citizens. So…without further ado, grab your passport and let’s start exploring! (Note: I’m not actually in Ireland this week…like you, I’m exploring and writing from the comfort of my home and dreaming about the Emerald Isle.)

Your Historian Plays The Harp

Yes. I’m a harpist. I’ve played a 36 string Celtic harp for almost 9 years. I love it! I’ve had the pleasure of sharing traditional and contemporary music for harp with many people through the years. I don’t particularly “specialize” in lots of traditional Irish music, but I do play a little of it and there are many fun tunes.

Sarah Kay Bierle 36 Strings of Joy

Celtic Harp

Okay, so just what is a Celtic or Irish Harp? Well, let’s make it easy. If the harp you’ve seen in a movie or on TV is over 4-5 feet tall, it’s probably not a Celtic Harp. Celtic Harps are known for their smaller size – some are held on the lap, others (like mine) rest on the floor, but are smaller than the large orchestral instrument. These little harps are known for their warm musical tones, easy (or semi-easy) transportation, and historical background. Sure, because they have fewer strings, these harps don’t always have a huge range of notes and musical keys, but there’s tons and tons of music available.

The Irish King Who Played The Harp

A legendary Irish king, Brian Boru, supposedly played the harp very well. Brian Boru was the first High King of Ireland, which means he ruled the country (kind-of). You see, back at the turn of century (we’re talking 1000ish A.D.) Ireland had lots of little kingdoms and kings and they didn’t all want to be part of King Brian’s nation. So there were wars and the poor king was eventually slain in battle.


According to legend, the Trinity College Harp (named for its current storage location) was originally Brian Boru’s harp. The now-fragile instrument originally had 29 strings. It’s been used as the model for the harp on Ireland’s coat of arms.

Telling Stories With Music

Traditional and modern Celtic music usually tells a story. Way back when…people didn’t have TVs or even books for entertainment. So what did they do on those long, rainy nights? Listen to music and the legends of the past.

Throughout the Dark Ages and Medieval/Renaissance Eras, musicians were the entertainment. In Celtic cultures, the bards (musician story-tellers) were held in great respect. They recounted the history of the country, the deeds of brave warriors, and maybe a love story or two.

The songs of harps and bards helped to preserve the history of this time.

The Blind Harper

Ever heard of O’Carolan? If you like Celtic music or play the harp, I’ll bet you have! Turlough O’Carolan lived from about 1670 to 1783 (A.D. of course) and is often called Ireland’s National Composer. But…he was blind. Poor O’Carolan had the dreaded disease smallpox when he was about 18, and he was blind for the rest of his life.

However, he loved music and eventually traveled the countryside, composing and performing music for wealthy patrons. O’Carolon’s music is very beautiful – sometimes, lively, other times, haunting.

Symbol of Ireland


The Celtic Harp is the national symbol of Ireland and is featured on their coat of arms. The harp symbolizes a unique and rich cultural heritage and history. And, best of all, the harp is still played today – in Ireland…and around the globe.

Your Historian (and musician),

Miss Sarah

P.S. Do you like harp music? If so, do you have a favorite song on harp? Share your thoughts in a comment!



2 thoughts on “Ireland’s Harps

  1. Pingback: Happy St. Patrick’s Day 2015! | Gazette665

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