Harps Alive all-island festival celebrates the Irish harp and the Bunting legacy
Harpers and historians joined forces this month to celebrate the 230th anniversary of the first Harpers’ Assembly with five days of harp music and heritage in a unique cross-community series of events, concluding in Dublin with a commemoration of the life of Edward Bunting.
In 1792, Bunting was commissioned to collect and transcribe the ancient music of the harpers at the iconic Belfast Harpers’ Assembly. Amongst the variety of events of the Harps Alive/An Chruit Bheo/Harps Leevin 2022 festival, Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Catherine Martin will lay a wreath at the newly refurbished grave of the renowned musician at Mount Jerome Cemetery in Dublin.
Welcoming the initiative, the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media Catherine Martin TD said: “In remembering Edward Bunting’s great achievement in 1792, we are conscious that the harping tradition was in danger of extinction and Bunting’s saving of that repertoire for future generations of harpers is inestimable. The music he saved is now being played by thousands of harpers all over Ireland, and indeed in every corner of the world.
“The driving force behind the move to record the vestiges of this tradition in 1792 was driven by a group of enlightened cultural and political leaders in Belfast”, she added. “I am delighted to see that their vision lives on in the work of the Harps Alive | An Chruit Bheo, | Harps Leevin Festival organisers, north and south. The Irish harp remains a unifying symbol of our identity for all people sharing the island of Ireland, and is living proof of our cultural heritage now, and into the future”.
Organised by the Harps Alive partnership, the festival has brought together the finest harpers from across the island to recognise the landmark event that collected the harpers’ music, more than two centuries ago, for future harpers to learn from and perform.
Opening with an event in the north’s historic Mussenden Temple on July 9, the festival featured three major concerts, recitals, talks and workshops in Belfast, in addition to an exhibition in Linen Hall Library, and a new publication on Harpers’ Gatherings in Ireland 1780-1840 by David Byers. It closes with a lecture on Bunting’s Dublin years and the commemorative ceremony in Dublin on Sunday July 24.
A collaboration between Cruit Éireann | Harp Ireland and the organisation, Reclaim the Enlightenment, Harps Alive features more than 55 harpers from across the country.
Aibhlín McCrann, Festival Co-Chair and Chair of Cruit Éireann Harp Ireland said that celebrating the anniversary presented a unique opportunity for the harping community.
“We are delighted to bring harpers from all over Ireland together to mark 230 years since the Belfast Harpers’ Assembly in Belfast” she said. “Our harping heritage transcends boundaries and has really connected the partners, north and south”.
“It is wonderful to hear the harpers’ music reflecting our living tradition and to see that there is so much interest in it. We welcomed audiences across the city of Belfast to our concerts, talks and exhibitions and are looking forward to the Dublin events.”
In 1792 the Harpers’ Assembly in Belfast brought together 11 harpers, seven of whom were blind, and the oldest, Denis Hempson, was 97 at the time.
John Gray, Festival Co-Chair and Chair of Reclaim the Enlightenment, explained that this was a major musical festival deeply rooted in history.
“In bringing more than 50 harpers to Belfast, we celebrated Bunting’s great legacy, the heritage of the harp and the contemporary revival of harp playing. We are very happy that we have created more awareness of the harp tradition with the public and that it will endure to leave a lasting impact”.
“Furthermore, we are very pleased to publish David Byers’ Gatherings of the Irish Harpers, which will be a valuable legacy of the 230th anniversary of the 1792 Harpers’ Assembly” he said.
On July 24th at 1pm in Rathfarnham Castle, musicologist and harper, Dr Mary Louise O’Donnell, will deliver an address on Edward Bunting: The Dublin Connection, during which she will set the scene about musical life in Dublin and the role that Edward Bunting played in it between 1818-1843.
At Mount Jerome Cemetery, Minister Martin will lay a wreath on the newly restored grave commemorating Bunting’s contribution to Irish harp music. This will be preceded by David Byers, speaking on the Bunting legacy. Poet Emily Cullen will share some of her poetry inspired by the Belfast Harp Festival, and two of our leading harpers, Paul Dooley and Áine Ní Dhubhghaill will perform on early Irish harp and Irish harp respectively.
“It is very satisfying to see our collaboration with our northern colleagues coming to fruition and to gain such a good understanding of the important role that the Belfast Harpers’ Assembly played in the safeguarding of the harpers’ music,” said Aibhlín McCrann.
“Moreover, our exciting line-up of harpers shows that the harping tradition is vibrant, dynamic and constantly evolving. It is part of our living cultural heritage that we are intent on safeguarding for future generations of harpers”.
Ms McCrann explained that Harps Alive brought enthusiasts from both north and south to work together.
“This has been a true partnership, epitomised by collegiality, enthusiasm and positivity,” she said. “Our thanks to our colleagues, who have collaborated to make the festival a success”.
“Special thanks to our funders both north and south, without whom it could not happen. We have experienced a real sense of engagement between harpers north and south, a wonderful cross community effort and hopefully it is the beginning of an enduring relationship founded on mutual regard and understanding of our joint traditions.”
The full festival programme is available at http://harpsalive.com.