The Rose Mooney or Carolan Harp

NMI DF.1945-122 is badly damaged and crudely repaired at the base of the soundbox and at the treble end of the neck. Some of the tuning pins are bent.

The harp has suffered terrible damage to both ends. The treble end of the neck is badly cracked, splintered and distorted where the top 5 or 6 pins go through it. The base of the soundboard is very smashed and broken, so that the forepillar is currently positioned much too low on the soundbox. This makes it very hard to understand how the harp was set up when Rose Mooney played it, and even harder to appreciate its original form.

There are three metal straps around the neck in the treble, and one in the bass (at the neck-pillar junction). There is a substantial metal strap running longwise over the neck-soundbox joint; there are also two slender straps in the bass, running parallel to the cheek bands, and bridging the neck-pillar joint.

At the bass end of the soundbox, the original ‘lobed’ design (like the Downhill) has been obscured by cloth bandages; the smashed wood is suppoorted by two iron straps which run diagonally across the soundboard and attach to the pillar base.

The lowest two tuning pin holes on the neck are blocked in by an unknown substance, possibly wooden dowels, or possibly broken pin shafts. It is hard to estimate the number of strings at different stages in the harp’s life. In the absence of proper documentation, technical drawings and CT-scans, this simple diagram attempts to clarify the situation:

pins and shoes numbered
Numbered diagram of pins and shoes, also showing straps on neck. Click to enlarge

The harp has the 2 lowest tuning-pin holes blocked, plus 34 extant pins, plus one empty hole (no. 34 from the bass). This hole is filled with a 35th pin in old photos. So there are a total of 37 tuning pin holes. However the very highest tuning pin position seems to be a later addition. At the moment I am thinking there were possibly 36 tuning pins originally.

There are 36 original string shoes on the soundbox. (my diagram above does not show the lowest string shoe in the bass, which is hidden under the bandages. It is visible on the inside of the harp). There is a 37th string-hole added in the treble, with a small hold drilled obliquely, as if it were drilled while the neck was in situ. It has a slender plain wire staple with legs inserted down into the wood.

There are wood screws screwed into the neck below the string end of the tuning pins along the left side of the neck. (I have not marked these on my numbered drawing above). Some people have wondered if these were used as primitive semitone devices, though I think they are more likely intended to guide the strings (and change their length) after the neck was smashed. I don't know how old these wood-screws are. I wonder if they could be as old as the late 18th century, or if they are more likely to be 19th century additions.

Many of the tuning pins are bent, perhaps from the impacts which caused the damage to the wood.

There are currently 25 strings fitted, which are probably 19th century replacements for display purposes; there are also 4 fragments of possibly older wire on the pin ends in the high treble.


Simon Chadwick