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 Center.


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 persona!


Williamson, Robin. The Wise & Foolish Tongue:
Celtic Stories & Poems.
1989, Chronicle Books, San Francisco.
0-87701-867-7.


Williamson, Robin. The Craneskin Bag:
Celtic Stories & Poems.
1989, Canongate Publishing, Edinburgh.
0-86241-218-8.

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 destiny.
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.

HARPS