There was once a time on the North Coast of Antrim when every great house had their harper and it was traditional that the harper must be able to play music for three distinct purposes: to calm and bring forth rest; to evoke emotion and bring forth tears and to inspire gladness, dancing and smiles. The music of the old Irish harpers was an oral tradition and after the Flight of the Earls in 1607, the harpers of the great houses found themselves out of work and many became wandering minstrels. The once great tradition of Irish harp music was in danger of disappearing from memory altogether.
In an attempt to preserve the dying harp tradition, the Belfast Harp Festival was organised in 1792, in which harpers from all over Ireland were called to attend and to compete for prizes (interestingly, only ten turned up; many of them very old and blind). Nineteen year old organist and pianist, Edward Bunting, was commissioned to listen to the the airs and pieces played by the old harpers and record them. Bunting published 66 of these tunes in the first volume of his collection, ‘A General Collection of the Ancient Music of Ireland.’
In February 2019, 10 pupils from Causeway Harp School were invited to perform at the ‘Remembering Edward Bunting Festival’ concert held at St George’s Church, Belfast (this was the very church in which Edward Bunting was organist). The girls gave a stunning 30 min performance of solo and ensemble pieces for a large public audience and were a huge success!
Although this was a wonderful experience for all involved, we have decided to keep our performances more local this year. I hope to hold a Causeway Harp School charity concert in the Spring/Summer months in Portballintrae so keep an eye for details to follow after Christmas!