The harp is the most revered instrument in the Irish tradition. Foreigners who thought the early Irish to be barbaric, praised Irish music
and Irish musicians as having a considerable amount of skill.
Records of the harp dating back to the 6th century indicate laws which dictated a high status on the Irish harper.
In 721 A.D., the chieftain, Fergus Mac Maile-Duin, judged his sons’ moral character by
the different types of harp playing that could be heard in their houses.
The Elizabethan rule in the 16th century saw the suppression of the old Gaelic order and the beginning of the decline of the native Irish harp tradition. By the end of the 17th century, the old Irish harping tradition had died out entirely and by the 18th century, harpers played contemporary or popular music, rather than the old repertoire.
In the 19th century, Ireland saw an effort to revive old harping traditions, so attempts were made to create different societies consisting of the poor blind boys who were taught the harp by Arthur O’Neill and Patrick Quin in Belfast and Dublin.
From this, came Valentine Rennie, master of the Belfast harp
school, and Patrick Byrne, who played before royalty and who appears in early photographs.
Most notably, however, came John Egan, who was a pedal harp builder from Dublin. John Egan, hoping to capitalize on the wave of Irish cultural sentiment, created a new and improved portable Irish harp. This harp featured various things.
- Pedal harp maker
- Dublin with strings
This improvement was exactly the same as the pedal harp, created by an advert, Pigot & Co’s 1824 City of Dublin.
After Egan, others came and attempted to produce imitations of Egan’s design, and thus was born the modern neo-Irish or folk harp. In the space of 100 years, the old Irish harp tradition had become extinct, and a new tradition began to take its place.