The Malahide 1 harp

Malahide 1 harp

May have been made in the late 18th Century

In a private collection in Ireland.

"High Headed" design;
36 strings, longest c.115cm

Simon with the harp

This harp’s soundbox is pieced from planks rather than carved from a solid block in the usual fashion. The entire instrument is painted all over; there is a yellow-golden strip painted up the front of the pillar, and along the top of the neck. The rest of the harp is painted in a fake wood grain in two shades of brown. The painting looks different on the soundbox to the rest of the harp, and I wonder if the soundbox is a later replacement. Certainly the projecting foot is a later replacemnt, and is combined with a rather ungainly stand.

There are applied scrolls to the side of the neck, and subtle profiling of the pillar to give a vestigial T-section and a step beneath the cheek bands. The pins are brass in the treble (21) and iron in the bass (15); there are remains of strings and toggles inside the soundbox. The cheek bands are iron and the straps and stringband on the soundbox are brass. There are 40 string-holes in the string band. The shortest string is about 8.8cm.

Nicholas Carolan (‘Two Irish harps in County Dublin’, Ceol VII, December 1984) first drew attention to this harp in 1984. He tells us that it was then owned by William Kearney, who acquired it at an auction in Ardee, Co. Louth, in 1975, where it had come from a local country house. According to Mike Billinge (wirestrungharp.com, retrieved Jan 2011), the harp was again auctioned in 1999 after the death of Kearney.

The Irish Times, 20th November 1999, reports on the forthcoming sale of Kearney's collection and mentions “two harps, lots 199 and 201 respectively, which, although from different centuries - 18th and 19th - have the same estimate of £2,000-£3,000 each.”. An Adams catalogue lists Lot 199: “An 18th century Irish harp, the case decorated with scrolls, having a large open sound box, 55in high. William Kearney Collection”. The Irish Times, 27th November 1999 reports the sale of an 18th century Irish harp from Kearney’s collection on November 24th, 1999, at James Adams Salerooms, at a price of £4000.


Simon Chadwick