For anyone studying historical music, the old instruments are a key starting point, because they were made for the old master musicians, and they were played in the old tradition, so their design, construction and use-wear tells us a huge amount about how the old music worked.
You can compare the harps preserved in museums with old depictions and drawings. The the old depictions can show us how the instruments were held and used, but for solid reliable evidence of the design and construction techniques, and the setup and ergonomic details of the old instruments we have to inspect the old instruments themselves.
Quite a few harps survive from the time when the Gaelic harp was made and played in a living tradition. Most are preserved in museums, but few have received close academic study; we therefore know very little about details of their construction, stringing or tuning, or in many cases even where and when they were made. As more work is done, more scientific analysis of the museum instruments, we will find out more information about how they were made and played.
If you know of any historical Gaelic harps not mentioned here please let me know!
Click on a harp’s name to see a picture and find out more about each one, or use the complete illustrated list.
Carolan (aka Rose Mooney)