Thursday, 2 July 2009

Irish harp has a possible link with ancient Egypt

The Irish love of music is expressed through the harp, its soothing tune and vibrations create instant harmony within the human cords, and transport us to another realm of space time and harmony.

Celtic harps can be found on carvings dating as far back as the 12th century, with surviving examples of actual instruments dating back to the 15th century.

The harp legend tells us that Dagda, a chief among the Taatha De Danaan, owned the first Gaelic harp. However, the harp was stolen by the gods of cold and darkness and given to the Fomorians, a group at war with the Taatha. Seeing this, the gods of light and art, Lugh and Ogma, entered the Fomorian fortress, recovered the harp, and restored it to Dagda.
The gods then gave Dagda two secret names for the harp and called forth summer and winter. From then on Dagda could play Goltrai, Geantrai, and Suantrai…Music that could make men weep, music that brought joy, and music that lulled men to sleep. Thus, Celtic harps became known as the dispensers of sorrow, happiness, and rest.

In the days of the Celtic chieftains, the harpist was the most honored musician and ranked only behind chiefs and bards in social class. The harpists, often blind, would play as the bards recited poetry for their lords. And, when war came, the harpist would bring forth a golden instrument encrusted with fine jewels in order to lead men into battle and spur them to great deeds.

In the Museum of Trinity College, Dublin, there is a small harp known as Brian Boro's harp, which is asumed to be the oldest instrument of the kind now remaining in Europe. It has one row of strings, thirty in number; the upright pillar is of oak, and the sound-board of red sallow. The minute and beautiful carving on all parts of the instrument, attests a high state of artistic skill at whatever period it was executed. As the harp is only thirty-two inches high, it is supposed that it was used by ecclesiastics in the church services, there is evidence of the harp having existed from the first introduction of Christianity. Harps of this description are figured on the knees of ecclesiastics on several of our ancient Irish stone crosses.

The form of the harp has been incorrectly represented on Irish coins. It was first assumed in the national arms about the year 1540. When figured on the coins of Henry VIII., the artist seems to have taken the Italian harp of twenty-four strings for his model; but in the national arms sketched on the map of Ireland in the State Papers, executed in the year 1567, the form is more correct. That the Irish possessed this musical instrument in pre-Christian times, cannot be doubted. A sculptured harp at Nieg, in Rosshire, are believed to be the earliest delineations of the perfect harp. there is also a harp on one of the compartments of a sculptured cross at Ullard, county Kilkenny. This cross is supposed to be older than that of Monasterboice, which was erected A.D. 830, and this is believed to be the first specimen of a harp without a fore pillar that has been discovered out of Egypt. If the Irish harp be really a variety of the cithara, derived through an Egyptian channel, it would form another important link in the chain of evidence, which leads us back to colonization from Egypt through Scythia.
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  1. Ver interesting review on the Irish harp! ... by the way it is a pity that Irish still name this cute harp as Brian Boru's... since this famous Irish king died in the battle of Clontarf on the first half of the XIIIth Century...I always like to refer to it as the Trinity College harp instead ..hehe
    Keep up the good work and feel free to visit my blog for further information on celtic harps and share my music
    Celtic Sprite

  2. Have you ever heard of a legend of the harp in Ireland that goes something like this:

    An ancient Irish king travels to Egypt, marries an Egyptian bride, and returns with her and the biblical prophet Ezekiel (or Jeremiah? not sure) to Ireland, bringing the harp.

    I've only heard this tale once, and it was quite a while ago, and I'm not sure how reputable the source is. However, quite interesting indeed, especially considering your post, at the end re: cithara