From early times to the end of the 19th Century Ireland is unique in having a musical instrument, the harp, as its national emblem.
The Celtic Harp symbol seen on Irish Coinage and also used by Guinness in advertisements roots in Christian stone crosses from the eight and ninth centuries and in early manuscripts. Usually the harpist resembles the biblical King David thus reflecting the prestige of the musician.
The Harp on a Green Background symbolising Ireland, first appeared in July 1642 when Eogham Rua O’Neill returned back from Spain to head the Ulster Armies in the Rebellion 1641.
This Flag (Green background with Yellow Harp) became Ireland’s Emblem up till the Tri Colour flag in 1916-1919.
The Celtic Harp is known as a ‘cláirseach’ in Irish. The Harp required a lot of Practice and Skill to play because of its long lasting resonance the performer had to dampen strings which had been played while new strings were being plucked, and doing this while playing rapidly. Opposite to conventional modern practice the left hand played the treble and the right hand played the Bass.
O’Carolan’s Farewell to Music
In the early 19th Century, even as the old Gaelic Harp tradition was dying out, a new harp was invented in Ireland. It had gut strings and semitones mechanisms like an orchestral pedal Harp, and was invented by a Dublin Pedal Harp maker John Egan.
Renewed interest in this Wire strung Harp has grown with replicas being made and research being conducted into ancient playing techniques and terminology.
Less Than a dozen Celtic Harps survived from the medieval period. The Oldest one on which the ‘official ‘National emblem of Ireland is based is The Trinity College Harp. Known also as The Brian Boru or O’Neill harp, You can find this 15th Century Harp in The Long Room at Trinity College, Dublin.