The Story of the Celtic Harp

216 TUTOR: Janet Harbison

This is a course on the history and music of the Celtic harp in the British Isles. Famously, the harp is the national emblem of Ireland (established by Henry VIII), but also much cherished by the Scottish and Welsh and by the English, Mannish and Cornish. Almost all British royalty (especially in the courts of Charles I, Charles II and Elisabeth, I) were attended by Celtic harpers, and King Charles III appoints an official 'Royal Harpist' (Welsh) every 4 years.


4 PM
PM course

Course Notes

The following agenda is flexible and includes time for questions and discussion


- Welcome and Introduction to course

- An overview of the relevance of Britain's Celtic history and the bards of Ireland and Wales in particular… and the role it played in the royal palaces.

- Recital with Janet entitled 'From Court to Kitchen: 400 years of harping from the Irish perspective'.



- How the harp came to represent the 'Irish' quarter of Great Britain and the evolution of the imagery (e.g. in the Royal Standard).

- The history of the harp in Scotland, myths and how the harp came to Wales. Introduction to the music manuscripts of Robert Ap Hew with some great recordings.



- All about the music - how it evolved and what makes it distinct

- The composer Turlough O'Carolan (1670-1738) - his life and times, and his secret to success

- A recital of the music of O'Carolan



- The Romantic Era - from the Melodies of Thomas Moore to the music of Morrison - - The evolution of folk music and new opportunities for professional harpers

- The significance of Guinness' harp, the harp of the bible, and the curative stories from myth and legend… 'The Harp That Once Through Tara's Halls'….

- Why so mystical? An examination of the harp and the Celtic harps' particular qualities

- A recital of your favourite harp music (by request!)



- The Renaissance of the Celtic Harp from 'The Festival of Britain' in 1951 and Ireland's 'discovery' of tourism - evolving a new audience for the harp

- A recital of newly composed music for the Celtic Harp

- 'Evolving through a Lifetime' - a personal memoir of the presenter who took up the harp at age 12 in 1967 and in the 1990s 'invented' the idea of a 'Harp Orchestra'. Her 'Belfast Harp Orchestra' was, for some time, an exclusive 'good news' story from Northern Ireland during 'The Troubles'. Launched formally in 1992, winning a Grammy Award with 'The Chieftains' in 1993 and promoting cross-community collaboration, boldly celebrating 'both traditions' of Northern Ireland, and negotiating the prejudices and ambiguities of political distinction (is the music of the harp classical or traditional? Irish or British? Protestant or Catholic? Nevertheless, launched many careers for stage performers, composers, music teachers, corporate musicians, palliative harp therapists, an artists' agency and a global Celtic harp revival…

Course Tutor

Janet Harbison

About Janet

Dublin born Janet Harbison is a multy-award winning personality in Irish music. With over 30 years of stage performance as a soloist, composer, and founder, trainer and director of various Irish Harp Orchestras, she is renowned for her innovation both as a performer and as a teacher where she has pioneered the oral method of teaching. Janet's history comprises 18 years working in Belfast, first as a doctoral Research Fellow at the Institute of Irish Studies at Queen's University (2 years), then as Curator of Music at the Ulster Folk Museum (8 years) where she created the idea of an orchestra to bring people from both sides of the community in Northern Ireland together in celebration of their cultural heritage.To support the work of the now world touring orchestra after they won a Grammy Award with the Chieftains in 1993, she founded the Harp Foundation Ireland to support its work and served as its CEO for 8 years. In 2002, she decided to head homeward passing over the direction of her harp schools and ensembles to former students, and established a residential college of harp at the Irish Harp Centre in Limerick. She directed the Harp Centre for 14 years training up many more of Ireland's prominent performers until, in 2016, she was appointed Visiting Professor of Music at Ulster University back in Northern Ireland. Married to fellow music teacher and former cathedral organist Malcolm Gullis (now based at St.Paul's Cathedral, London) she commutes from her home in London to Londonderry for her university work and runs harp courses for players and teachers world-wide. She is delighted to join the programme at Marlborough Summer School and looks forward to getting acquainted with all kinds of harp players in the UK. Learn more on

Gift vouchers

Request a brochure

Summer School Entertainment 2024


Talking Stones

Rock, Paper, Scissors Brian Anderson has been a lecturer and course tutor at the Summer School...

More News

All courses run for 5 days

WK 1 8 Jul - 12 Jul

WK 2 15 Jul - 19 Jul

WK 3 22 Jul - 26 Jul

WK 4 29 Jul - 2 Aug

Morning Courses

9.15AM to 12.15PM

Afternoon Courses

1.45PM to 4.30PM

All Day Courses

9.15AM to 4.30PM