The Sirr harp

Sirr harp

Usually dated to the late 17th Century

Owned by the National Museum of Ireland, Collins Barracks, in storage (not on display).

"High Headed" design;
36 strings, longest 111cm

This harp belonged to Major Sirr in the early 19th Century, and in 1841 it was described as having “a brass hand attached to it, which is lost. It belonged to a bard of the O’Neill family”.

On the left side of the neck the brass cheek-band is very wide and bears bridge-pins, a very unusual feature on early Irish harps. That these are an original feature is shown by the high position of the tuning pins, in a line which would not work in terms of scaling and string length if the bridge pins were not fitted. This may argue for a date right at the end of the 18th century for this harp.

The base of the soundboard has been smashed and repaired with glued-on canvas patches like Rose Mooney's harp.

The carved beings on the neck are often described as a bird of prey and rabbit victim, but they seem to me more like a mother bird and chick.

The harp was purchased by the Royal Irish Academy in the mid 19th century as part of a collection of Irish antiquities assembled by Major Sirr, and so went to the National Museum along with the rest of the RIA collections. (O'Curry's lectures, 1873, p.297)


Simon Chadwick