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date: 23 September 2020

Irish harp(i) (Irish cláirseach; Scots Gael. clàrsach)locked

  • Joan Rimmer


(Irish cláirseach; Scots Gael. clàrsach)

The specific name for the regionally distinctive kind of harp made in Ireland and Gaelic Scotland between the 12th and 18th centuries. 14 instruments and fragments survive from the 14th century onwards. Characteristic structural features were: i) a resonator (‘box’) hollowed from a single block of wood (generally willow) to a thickness of about 1·3 cm on the curved belly, but with thicker sides; this was closed at the back by a wooden ‘door’; ii) a curved forepillar, most of which was T-shaped in section; iii) a deeply curved neck; iv) 30–36 brass strings, attached at the left side of the neck to metal tuning pins and at the lower end to wooden toggles inside the box; v) horseshoe-shaped metal loops (‘shoes of the strings’) fixed round the friction area of each string hole in the belly.

14th- and 15th-century instruments were small and low-headed, the neck protruding slightly over the forepillar, and were diatonically or perhaps modally tuned. 16th- and 17th-century instruments were larger and high-headed. The harp was set at the player's left shoulder, the left hand playing in the upper register and the right hand in the lower. Strings were plucked with long fingernails, trimmed to a point. In his ...

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Galpin Society Journal
Early Music