Northern Ireland news

Harpers to commemorate the great Belfast Harp Festival

County Antrim harper, Gráinne Meyer will premiere a specially commissioned arrangement of music for the Harps Alive Ensemble.
By Seamus McKinney

Harpers from all over Ireland will converge on Belfast this weekend to celebrate the significance of the great Belfast Harp Festival of 1792.

Organised by Cruit Éireann (Harp Ireland), the ‘Harps Alive’ festival will examine the importance of the 1792 gathering in preserving and influencing Irish harp music. Much of the music performed at great Belfast Harp Festival was collected by County Armagh born Edward Bunting, a friend of United Irishmen leader, Henry Joy McCracken.

Bunting’s work is still available in the present day. As a 19-year-old classically trained musician, Bunting was engaged by transcribe the harp music played at the Belfast event which took place at the “Assembly Room” on Waring Street in the city.

Saturday’s Harps Alive festival will feature workshops, films, music and lectures and will take place at a range of venues. The venues include: the First Presbyterian church, Rosemary Street; the Shankill Road library; St Joseph’s church, Sailortown; the Linenhall Library; the Cultúrlann and the Assembly Rooms with a harp session to round off the festival at the Deer’s Head.

The Belfast festival will be followed up with a second celebration of harp music in Dublin on the weekend of October 21 and 22.

A highlight of Saturday’s Belfast festival will be the premiere of a specially commissioned arrangement of harp music by County Antrim harper, Gráinne Meyer at Rosemary Street church (5.30pm). The performance will also feature Eibhlín Ní Ríordáin, the Northern Stars Trio and harp and pipes duo, Laoise Kelly and Tiarnán Ó Duinnchinn.

Chair of Harp Ireland, Aibhlín McCrann said the collaboration of harpers from all over Ireland had been very satisfying. She said the festival epitomised the “collegiality, enthusiasm and positivity” of the Irish harp family and would provide an understanding of how the Belfast Harpers' Assembly helped safeguard harp music. 

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Harp Ireland chief executive, Lauren Ní Néill said everyone was looking forward to Saturday’s festival as well as the Dublin celebration.

“Our exciting line-up of harpers shows that the harping tradition in Ireland is vibrant, dynamic and constantly evolving. It is part of our living cultural heritage and we are intent on celebrating Edward Bunting’s achievement and safeguarding it for future generations of harpers,” Ms Ní Néill said.

John Gary of Reclaim the Enlightenment said Saturday’s performances were rooted in history. He said they would create more awareness of the harp tradition and would leave a lasting legacy.

Full details of all events at the Belfast Harps Alive festival are available at:

Northern Ireland news