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The Irish Harp

Hello , today I want to tell you about the Irish Harp.

You would be forgiven for thinking that the Shamrock is our national emblem however the Harp is the national symbol of Ireland. You may have seen it associated with popular Irish brands such as Guinness and Ryanair.

Before the Tricolor was named the national flag in 1919, the first unofficial flag of Ireland featured the Irish Harp. It also currently serves as the flag of the President of Ireland and appears prominently on all of Ireland’s Euro coins and on the Irish passport.

The harp also features in many Irish Mythology stories.

The most famous Irish harp was called “Uaithne” and belonged to the Dagda who was an important God in Irish Mythology. The Dagda was a protector of the people and legend tells us that his magical harp played itself!

One of the most famous Irish harp players was Turlough O’Carolan who was blind. Born in Ireland in the 18th century, he was famous for playing the Harp but was also a composer and a singer. He is commonly known as Irelands national composer.

The greatest of all Irish High Kings was Brian Boru famed in saga and legend and was the King of Munster.(south of Ireland). The High King was said to be “addicted to music” and it is said that he was known to play the harp himself. Because of Brian Boru’s love of the harp harpists held great prestige in high society. You can imagine the pomp and ceremony in the large banquet halls as the Kings and Queens socialized.

An event in March 1969 in Trinity College Dublin brought the Harp to the worlds attention! The most famous Harp in Ireland which resided in the old library of Trinity College vanished! Known as the Brian Boru Harp, the celebrated harp of Trinity College is believed to date back to the 15th century. The story of its taking grabbed huge media attention both in Ireland and abroad, and was caught up in the politics of the day.

The harp was presented to Trinity College Dublin by William Conyngham in the late 18th century, and was restrung in the British Museum in 1962.

As it transpired a thief had broken in through a window by forcing the catch, opened the case in which the harp was stored and stole it. There was outrage both in Ireland and abroad that such a piece of history and beauty could be stolen. After all, because it was so recognisable it could never be sold- ” too hot to handle” I think is how they would describe it!

Henry Giltrap, the Secretary of Trinity College Dublin, began to receive calls in the aftermath of the robbery, requesting money in return for its safe exchange. The issue caused huge embarrassment for the authorities at Trinity College Dublin, with many questioning how a library which served as home to so many priceless works could be broken into with such relative ease.

A threat was made via a ransom note that unless money was left in a dustbin at Bull Wall (Dublin Port), the instrument would be destroyed.

After a tense stand off the Gardai managed to capture the villains who eventually led them to a sand pit in Blessington (Co Wicklow) and with a shovel unearthed the sacred harp. The harp in Trinity College has had many visitors and below you can see a picture of Queen Elizabeth viewing the harp during a visit in 2011.

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