The Harp – Over the years, shamrocks and the famed Tricolour have become symbols of the Emerald Isle. But when celebrating Irish history or planning St. Patrick’s Day festivities, celebrants should not overlook the important role the harp has played in Ireland for centuries. Even the Bible mentions the harp.
The harp is the official emblem of Ireland, appearing on the Presidential Seal and currency and in a number of state-sponsored organizations’ logos.
Also called the Celtic harp, Gaelic harp or the cláirseach in the modern Irish language, has long been a symbol of Irish pride. Although the earliest origins of the harp in Ireland remain open to speculation, historians believe the harp was introduced to pre-Christian Europe by the Phoenicians, who brought it over from Egypt as one of their international trading goods. Evidence suggests the Irish harp dates back at least 1,000 years. Brian Boru, the last High King of Ireland, was said to have been an accomplished player. Revered in Celtic/Gaelic culture. Irish and Scottish kings and chieftains often had their own resident harper, who typically would play and recite poetry or sing psalms.
According to Catholic Online, King Henry VIII used the harp on coins as early as 1534. Appearing on Irish flags and Irish coats of arms. It was also used as a symbol of the Irish people during their long struggle for freedom. Beginning in 1642, this musical instrument appeared on flags during rebellions against English rule. It was seen as a threat that the British Crown ordered that all harps be burned and all harpers executed. It would be almost 200 years before the music of the harp was freely enjoyed in Ireland once again. When Ireland became an independent country in 1921, it adopted the harp as its national symbol.
There are various ways to play. Early Celtic harps were wire-strung and required plucking of the strings with longer fingernails. Modern harps are often played with the pads of the fingers. Eight fingers are used, as the pinkie fingers are not strong enough to strum the strings. With practice, many people can produce a very good sound on their harps after just a few lessons.
An impressive instrument that has been enjoyed throughout Irish history. And its status as a symbol linked to the Irish people’s struggle for independence no doubt played a role in its declaration as an official symbol of Ireland.
Known as a lyre in the Bible, it is used 50 times in King James Version of the Bible. King David was known for playing the lyre.
Compliments of Metro Creative TF173852 with some revisions. First Published March 9, 2019. Last updated or republished February 17, 2021.