North Coast Teenage Harpers among Performers at Harps Alive Festival this Weekend

From left: Harpers Hannah Thompson, Phoebe Kelly and Katy Bustard.

By Zahra Baz

Three young Causeway harpers will be taking to the stage this weekend for the Harps Alive/An Chruit Bheo/Harps Leevin 2022 festival.

Mollie Flack (14), Phoebe Kelly (14) and Hannah Thompson (12), are students of renowned harper Katy Bustard and are studying at her Causeway Harp School.

The festival will see harpers and historians from across the island of Ireland join forces this month to celebrate the 230th anniversary of the first Belfast Harpers’ Assembly in 1792 with five days of music and heritage in a unique cross-community series of events, opening at Mussenden Temple this weekend and concluding in Dublin on July 24th with a commemoration of the life of Edward Bunting.

The festival is the product of a joint north-south project aiming to commemorate, celebrate and educate people on the cultural history, heritage and development of Irish harping. The main schedule of events will take place in locations throughout Belfast’s inner city from July 15-17.

On July 9, Mussenden Temple will feature a three-hour programme at the Denis Hempson: The Harper & His Legacy event presented by historian Mark Doherty and Limavady’s Fiona Pegrum QG. 

Young Co Antrim harpers Mollie, Phoebe and Hannah will be among the performers of the Causeway Harp Ensemble with their teacher Katy Bustard leading.

They will be joined by harper Aoibheann Devlin, who will perform on a copy of the Downhill Harp, and the Scoil Ruaidhri Dall harp ensemble led by harper Nodlaig Brolly. 

Mollie found herself inspired by teacher Katy Bustard three years ago after attending a harp workshop in Portballintrae; one that kickstarted her interest and passion for traditional Irish harp music. Two years later, Mollie has achieved her Grade 5 in the instrument and is currently working on conquering Grade 6, a task she deems as her biggest challenge thus far.

“I’ve only been playing for two years and it’s stressful to do grades, but I know I’ll get the outcome that I want if I put in the hard work and dedication”, Mollie said. 

“I really look up to my harp teacher, Katy Bustard. It’s because of her encouragement and amazing teaching that has got me to where I am today. I love how much she enjoys playing her harp and teaching; I’ve really learnt a lot from her.

“I’m really excited to be performing at the event as part of the Harps Alive Festival 2022. I think the festival is an amazing opportunity for young musicians, and helps others to love and enjoy our music too.

“I think if I had to give advice to other young people, it would be to never give up, even if you fail. Things will get much better. One failure is just a lesson for the future.”

For Phoebe, she followed in her sister’s footsteps as she began to play the harp at nine years of age. After moving to Causeway Harp School in August 2021, Phoebe has found herself surrounded by unrivalled support from the teachings of Katy. 

With an ongoing passion for traditional Irish music, Phoebe regularly plays the harp at her church and maintains membership at the North Coast Trad, wherein she explores playing traditional music with a wide range of instruments. It is through this unbridled passion and dedication that has led to Phoebe’s performances in her church concert and at the North Coast Trad Concert in Flowerfield Arts Centre.

“I’m delighted to be performing at the ‘Denis Hempson, the Harper and his Legacy’ event as part of the Harps Alive Festival. With the beautiful scenery at Mussenden, I believe it will be a very memorable experience for everyone involved”, said Phoebe.

“It’s really encouraging being offered the opportunity to play the harp for different events, so I’m very excited.

“My advice to other young harpers would be to just give it a try! You might be surprised by what you can achieve.”

After being presented with the opportunity to learn the harp when she was just six years old, Hannah quickly found herself falling in love with the traditional instrument. Fast forward six years and Hannah is a student at Causeway Harp School, where she has achieved her Grade 5 in harp, a task she regards as her biggest achievement to date.

“Even though I’ve got my Grade 5, I’ve been trying to work on my sight reading skills. The traditional harp is played by ear, which I’m finding to be a little more difficult than I first thought,” shared Hannah.

“It’s just part of learning the traditional harp. I love being transported by the music, it’s just magical.”

For more information go to http://harpsalive.com