All-Island Harps Alive Festival To Culminate In Dublin Commemoration Of Life Of Prolific Musician Edward Bunting

(L-R) Terry McKeown (Reclaim The Enlightenment),harper Ciara Taaffe, John Grey (Reclaim The Enlightenment), harper Adam O’Neill, and Eithne Benson (Harp Ireland) at Clifton House

Harps Alive festival all-island celebration of the instrument and history

Harpers and historians will join forces this month to celebrate the 230th anniversary of the first Harpers’ Assembly with five days of 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 compiled and transcribed traditional harp music and amongst the variety of events of the Harps Alive/An Chruit Bheo/Harps Leevin 2022 festival Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sports and Media Catherine Martin will lay a wreath at the newly refurbished grave of the renowned musician at Mount Jerome Cemetery.

Organised by the Harps Alive partnership, the festival will bring together the finest harpers from across the island to recognise the landmark event that collected music more than two centuries ago for future harpers to learn from and perform.

The festival will feature three major concerts, smaller recitals, talks and workshops in Belfast, in addition to an exhibition in Linen Hall Library, and a new publication on the history of harping in Ireland.

The event will be opened by an event in the north’s historic Mussenden Temple on July 9 and will close with a talk on Bunting and the commemorative service in Dublin on July 24. 

A collaboration between Harp Ireland and the historical organisation Reclaim the Enlightenment, Harps Alive will feature 50n harpers with 12 harpers from Ireland, many based in Dublin, as well as talent from Northern Ireland.

Aibhlín McCrann, Chair of Cruit Éireann Harp Ireland, said that celebrating the anniversary presented a unique musical 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 are looking forward to welcoming audiences across the city of Belfast to our concerts, talks and exhibitions and in Dublin later in the month.”

In 1792 the Harpers’ Assembly in Belfast brought together 11 harpers, seven of which were blind, and the eldest Denis Hempson was 97 at the time.

John Gray, Chair of Reclaim the Enlightenment, explained that this will be a major musical festival rooted in history.

“In bringing more than 50 harpers to Belfast, the festival will create the largest ever such assembly in the city,” he said. “It will be a celebration of the heritage of the harp and the contemporary revival of harp playing, and when it concludes we hope to have created more awareness of the harp tradition with the public and leave a lasting legacy.”

On July 24th at 1pm musicologist and musician, Dr Mary Louise O’Donnell, will deliver an address on Edward Bunting: The Dublin Connection at Rathfarnham Castle, Dublin, during which she will set the scene for musical life in Dublin and the role that Edward Bunting played in it between 1818-43. 

At the Mount Jerome Cemetery, the Minister wreath laying commemorating Bunting’s contribution to Irish music 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 Ms McCrann. 

“Moreover, our exciting lineup 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 are looking forward to a lively and engaging weekend of harping.

“We have renowned harpers from all over Ireland taking part in workshops, concerts, talks and exhibitions. Each of them is thrilled to be celebrating the 230th anniversary of Edward Bunting’s great achievement.

“I have no doubt that had it not been for his vision and determination, our harping heritage would have been irrevocably lost to us”.

The full festival programme is available at harpsalive.com.