A Bibliography of Gaelic Harps & Harpers
Below is a list of books I recommend for further reading. Some may be
available from the Sylvia Woods Harp
The New Grove Dictionary of Music & Musicians (20 vols.).
1980, Grove's Dictionary of Music, Washington, DC.
The standard reference work for matters musical. The entry under
HARP gives a very good history of harp development, followed by chapters on
mediæval and Gaelic harps. Look for The Grove in the reference
section of your public library.
Rensch, Roslyn. Harps & Harpists.
1979, Indiana University Press. 0-253-34903-6.
A general history of harps, harpers and harpists from ancient times in
Egypt and Mesopotamia to modern times in Europe and America. Part II has
lots of interesting details about mediæval and Renaissance harps in
art, literature and music, and a chapter describing a number of surviving
harps, including five Gaelic harps.
Rimmer, Joan. The Irish Harp: Cláirseach na hÉireann.
2nd ed. 1977, Mercier Press. 0-85342-151-X.
A concise history of the Irish and Scottish harps, including photos and
descriptions of a dozen Gaelic harps and fragments of two more, and a short
chapter about the neo-Irish harp.
Sanger, Keith, and Kinnaird, Alison. Tree of Strings:
crann nan teud: a history of the harp in Scotland.
1992, Kinmor Music, Midlothian, Scotland. 0-9511204-4-1.
A fascinating social history as well as a history of harps. About half the
book deals with people and events before 1650, with chapters on the harp in
legend and song, early archæological evidence, literary references
from without and within the Gaelic areas, the harp in the Royal Court of
Scotland, musical connections with Irish harpers, and Highland clans and
their harping connections. Great source material for developing a
Williamson, Robin. The Wise & Foolish Tongue:
Celtic Stories & Poems. 1989, Chronicle Books, San Francisco.
Williamson, Robin. The Craneskin Bag:
Celtic Stories & Poems. 1989, Canongate Publishing, Edinburgh.
A story book for all ages by "Scotland's bard and harper". Robin
Williamson has long been interested in the folklore, songs and music of his
native Scotland, of Ireland, and of Celtic Britain. As a story-teller he
has "endeavoured to convey the spirit, word-music, and vigour of the
originals" in this collection of journeys, wizards, heroes, history and
The Canongate edition of the book has illustrations and a different title,
though the text is the same.
Robin sometimes accompanies the stories he tells by playing his harp,
particularly in passages of strong emotion or poetic words, as the Gaelic
harper would have accompanied the recitation of the fili.
Stewart, R. J., and Williamson, Robin. Celtic Bards, Celtic Druids.
1996, Blandford (Cassell PLC), London. 0-7137-2563-X.
From the eighteenth century, Celtic revivalists began to merge classical
and Celtic sources with fabricated material, a trend that the authors say
continues today, often making it difficult for the general reader to
distinguish fact from fiction.
In this book the authors have combined a guide to Celtic tradition with a
collection of stories, poems and songs from Ireland and Celtic Britain.
Fourteen pages in the introduction are devoted to the bards, harpers and
harping traditions of Ireland and Wales.
Yeats, Gráinne. The Harp of Ireland.
1992, Belfast Harpers' Bicentenary Ltd., Belfast.
As the subtitle says, this little book is mostly about "The Belfast
Harpers' Festival, 1792 and the Saving of Ireland's Harp Music by Edward
Bunting". But about one-fifth the book describes the early harping
tradition before the end of the Gaelic order.