The silver apple of the moon shone brightly over O’Carolan’s resting place on Wednesday 4th February 2015 as his legacy and that of Ireland’s bardic harpers was richly celebrated in St. Ronan’s Hall in Keadue, Co. Roscommon.
Stephen Hennessy, Chair of the O’Carolan Harp Festival now in its 37th year, opened the event. He warmly welcomed the audience to one of the villages in Ireland responsible for keeping the harp tradition alive and well and sharing O Carolan’s influence across the world.
On behalf of the Harp Festival of Moons creative team, Celia Keenaghan shared with the gathering the concept of the festival which was seeded by Senator Susan O’Keeffe in wanting to celebrate Senator Yeats’ role in having the harp on the new state’s coinage. Senator O’Keeffe’s wish to give the harp and harp players centre stage in Yeats2015 celebrations was brought to life by Catherine Rhatigan’s insightful linking of Yeats’ protection of the harp image with his reverence for the moon and the natural environment.
For half an hour, three young Keadue harpers, Fiachra Guihen, Emma Benson & Aoife Guckian demonstrated their talent and their love of the harp as they travelled in time through O’Carolan pieces including Sí Bheag Sí Mhor, through to some lively pieces from Michael Rooney’s recently composed Boroimhe Suite. The players exhibited a confidence and comfort with their harps that credits the efforts of Keadue residents many of whom were present on the night, who have ensured that the harp tradition is thriving through the skilled fingers of these young harpers and many more.
Guests were then treated to the expert tales and tunes of Paul Dooley who told of his own first encounter with harp music as a child listening to Breton musician Alan Stivell. Paul shared his journey as a young man with a passion for playing music who went on to make his own harp playing traditional jigs and reels on it at a time when that was not the norm.
As well as casting a spell on the audience as his nimble nails danced across his harps metal strings, Paul unassumingly weaved a scholarly lecture on the origins, history and story of harp playing in Ireland, Scotland and Wales. He spoke about how chronicler Gerald of Wales in the 1100s, in an otherwise scathing account of the Irish, noted how the Irish excelled at playing harp music. He also spoke about a meeting of master musicians in Glendalough in 1100 and the connections between Welsh and Irish harp music.
Paul treated the audience to tunes from the late 18th early 19th century Bunting collection including Ireland’s oldest jig The Jointure passed from Hempsey to Bunting in 1802. Amid these ancient tunes were sprinkled some of Paul’s own work. In deference to Yeats’ love of the supernatural Paul shared his adaption of The Fairy Queen a tune he learned from the renowned fiddler Tommy Peoples. In one of his many interesting asides, Paul pointed out that in the 18th century McNeals collection The Fairy Queen is attributed to Sigr Carollini attesting perhaps to O’Carolan’s Baroque musical aspirations.
There was a lovely sense of community pride and ownership of the harp tradition which has been carefully nurtured and is now bearing abundant fruit evident in a new generation of harpers. Meanwhile, following in the footsteps of Ireland’s master harpers, Paul Dooley continues to stretch the boundaries of our harp knowledge, art and skills.
Find out more about Yeats150 Harp Festival of Moons at: Yeats 150 Festival of Harps and Moons