13 Events Happening At The Harps Alive Festival This Weekend

Harpers and historians will join forces in July to celebrate the 230th anniversary of the Belfast Harpers’ Assembly with five days of music and heritage in a unique cross-community series of events.

Organised by the Harps Alive partnership, the festival will bring together the finest harpers from across the island to recognise the landmark event that collected music more than two centuries ago for future harpers to learn from and perform.

The festival features three major concerts, smaller recitals, talks and workshops taking place across the city of Belfast, in addition to an exhibition in Linen Hall Library, and a new publication on the history of harping in Ireland. 

Here are 13 events happening in Belfast this weekend:

1. Festival Launch 

Friday 15th July – Linen Hall Library

Festival launch by the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Tina Black, and launch of David Byers’ seminal Gatherings of Irish Harpers 1780-1840, especially commissioned for the festival, with harpers Laoise Kelly and Adam O’Neill.

6pm | Free

To find out more, go to https://bit.ly/3yzxiMN 

2. Exhibition | The Harp and Its Heritage

Friday 15th – Sunday 17th July – Linen Hall Library

The Linen Hall Library is a unique institution which was founded in 1788 by a group of artisans as the Belfast Reading Society and in 1792 became the Belfast Society for Promoting Knowledge. It has played a significant role in the preservation of the harpers’ repertoire. 

Early members of the Library organised a festival of harp music in July 1792 ‘with the intention of having the music taken down and recorded for the first time’. The Library was instrumental in supporting the subsequent publishing of this music. The exhibition will also feature some of Edward Bunting’s notes and manuscripts from the Queen’s University collection which will be on display for the duration of the Festival.

3. Harp Maker’s Workshop and Concert

Saturday 16th July – Shankill Road Library

Did you ever wonder how harps are made, how the wood is chosen, how the beautiful sonorous tone emerges from a chunk of wood? Come along and discover how one of the North’s most renowned harp makers turns out instruments that are in demand worldwide.

Hear the harp being played by well-known Causeway harper, Katy Bustard and you’ll appreciate the craft behind the art.

10am | Free

For more information, go to https://bit.ly/3Pq8AFy

4. Harps Are Fun! Workshop with Sharon Carroll

Saturday 16th July – Turas, East Belfast Mission, Skainos Building, Newtownards Rd

Harper Sharon Carroll delves into the magic of Irish legend and invites children to come along to be spellbound by enchanting harp sounds and intriguing stories. This is an hour out for all the family. You might even have a chance to try out a harp for yourself!

10am | Free

For more information, go to https://bit.ly/3AMBc7O

5. Denis Hempson, the Harper and his Legacy presented by Mark Doherty and Fiona Pegrum with harp music from Ciara Taaffe

Saturday 16th July – First Presbyterian Church, Rosemary Street, Belfast

Historian Mark Doherty and genealogist Fiona Pegrum alongside North Coast harpers present a captivating account of the life and times of Magilligan harper Denis Hempson who was 97 when he performed at the Belfast Harpers’ Assembly of 1792.

12pm | £5

For more information and tickets, go to https://bit.ly/3z3MOSk

6. Lunchtime Concert: Northern Stars

Saturday 16th July – First Presbyterian Church, Rosemary Street

Three shining lights of Irish harping Gráinne Meyer, Adam O’Neill, and Ciara Taaffe come together to showcase their diverse styles in a lunchtime concert of harpers’ music. They will also present the first live performance of Gránne Hambly’s commission for Cruit Éireann | Harp Ireland, an arrangement of An Rós Beag Dubh from the Bunting Collection and Bundoran Junction composed by Patrick Davey.

1pm | £5

For more information and tickets, go to https://bit.ly/3Po5XUt

7. Citizens’ Manifestation

Saturday 16th July – Assembly Rooms, 3 Waring St, Belfast

The Assembly Rooms at the junction of North Street and Waring Street is the oldest public building in Belfast, dating back to 1769. It was here that the celebrated Assembly of Harpers took place in 1792. It lay at the centre of eighteenth century social life. It was here that the Belfast Harbour Commissioners were established, and here that Belfast’s citizens rejected a proposal to set up a slave trading company. United Irish leader, Henry Joy McCracken, was court-martialled here prior to his execution in 1798. 

Now semi-derelict it stands as a reproach to the citizens of Belfast. Our Citizens’ Manifestation at 2.30pm on Saturday 16 July will make the case for Belfast City Council to acquire the building for use as a centre to celebrate our city’s enlightened 18th century era. All welcome.

2:30pm | Free

For more information, go to https://bit.ly/3ccSmRx

8. Early Harp Discovery Day: Listen, Learn, Have a Go! with Simon Chadwick and Sylvia Crawford

Saturday 16th July – Clifton House, 2 Clifton St

Would you like to learn more about, and even get your hands on a copy of an ancient Irish harp – and be taught a tune? Meet the Historical Harp Society of Ireland, hear this rare instrument played in concert, have your questions answered at an illustrated talk, and – if you sign up early enough – take one of up to eight places in a hands-on beginners’ workshop. Listen to, and ask questions, at a 45-minute illustrated talk on the fascinating history of the Early Irish Harp. 

Join a 75-minute, hands-on workshop for beginners. Harps, copied from medieval to 18th-century originals, will be available on a first-come, first-served basis.

3:30pm | Free

For more information, go to https://bit.ly/3PqhJO8

9. 230 Years a-Harping Commemorative Concert

Saturday 16 July – First Presbyterian Church, Rosemary Street 

Harpers from all over Ireland gather to recreate the Belfast Harpers’ Assembly held around this time 230 years ago. Eleven harpers attended. Six were blind. The eldest, Denis Hempson (1695 -1807) from Derry, was 97. He was the only one to use the ancient way of playing with the fingernails. The 19 year old organist Edward Bunting (1773- 1843) was employed to write down the music of the harpers and to transcribe their techniques. This became a lifelong passion and he subsequently published three volumes of music in 1796, 1809 and 1840, which he called The Ancient Music of Ireland. 

Siobhán Armstrong (Early Irish Harp), singer Doimnic Mac Giolla Bhríde and harper Laoise Kelly revisit some of the harpers’ music collected by Edward Bunting, while 13 of our younger harpers select and perform their favourite harpers’ tunes from the collection.

8pm | £20

For more information and tickets, go to https://bit.ly/3IyMC0C

10. Seinnigí Linn le Cormac de Barra (Workshop and Concert)

Sunday 17th July – An Cultúrlann

Internationally acclaimed harper Cormac de Barra invites you to a workshop at An Cultúrlann in Belfast. No matter what your standard, come along and take part. There will be something in it for everybody. And that’s not all … Cormac rolls up his sleeves for a special family concert at 1pm, where you will hear the best of harpers’ music from one of our most renowned harpers.

12pm | Free

For more information, go to https://bit.ly/3Pa4qSj

11. Taking the Tune: ‘3 Tunes to go’ (Workshop and Concert)

Sunday 17th July – St Joseph’s, Sailortown

Come along to St Joseph’s, Sailortown, for our ‘3 tunes to go’ challenge. See how quickly you can pick up a harp tune from Luke Webb, Eilis Lavelle and Lauren O’Neill. Relax then into your Sunday afternoon with our Harp Moments concert where Luke, Eilís and Lauren perform their favourite Bunting tunes.

12pm | Free

For more information, go to https://bit.ly/3NXtkDm

12. From Mayo to Belfast with Harper Hugh Higgins

Sunday 17th July – The Duncairn

Winner of the TG4 Gradam na Bliana, harper Laoise Kelly, journeys from Mayo to Belfast with Hugh Higgins, one of the blind harpers of the Assembly of 1792. She revisits some of his music and tells his story.

2pm | £5

​​For more information and tickets, go to https://bit.ly/3axFPru

13. Gala Finale Concert | Harps Alive, An Chruit Bheo, Harps Leevin

Sunday 17th July – St Joseph’s, Sailortown

The Festival culminates with a celebration of our living tradition showing the exciting trajectory of harping at the present time. 

Kathleen Loughnane takes up the story with some music from the harpers Connellan – William and Thomas, whose music Bunting also featured. She is joined by her son Cormac Cannon and we hear the incomparable partnership of harp and pipes – the soul and sound of Ireland. Harpers Anne-Marie O’Farrell and Cormac de Barra are two of the most dynamic players at the current time; they play a scintillating combination of harpers’ music arranged in a contemporary way. 

The evening ends with a tribute to the Belfast Harp Orchestra with Director Janet Harbison, who established the Grammy award-winning harp orchestra in 1992, bringing harpers together from both political traditions so that it quickly became a model of cross-community co-operation. She is joined by some of its former members, now professional harpers, together with soloists; singer Mairéad Healy and whistle player and piper, Patrick Davy.

8pm | £20

For more information and tickets, go to https://bit.ly/3nWS0Bh

Last weekend Harps Alive had a fantastic opening in Magilligan and Mussenden Temple, Downhill, where the life and music of Denis Hempson was celebrated. 

The Harps Alive events culminate with two free-admission events in Dublin, an illustrated talk, Edward Bunting: The Dublin Connection and a commemoration, Edward Bunting Remembered: Wreath-laying ceremony, words, poetry and harp music.

Aibhlín McCrann, Chair of Cruit Éireann Harp Ireland, said that celebrating the anniversary presented a unique musical opportunity for the harping community.

“Our harping heritage transcends boundaries and has really connected the partners, north and south.

“We are looking forward to welcoming audiences across the city of Belfast to our concerts, talks and exhibitions and in Dublin later in the month.”

For more information or to purchase tickets go to http://harpsalive.com

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