Cláirseach has been played in Ireland and Scotland since the 10th century to the 19thcentury. Set on a blue background, it is the national emblem of Ireland.
The Early Gaelic Harp, or cláirseach, is unique among other harps (both historical and modern): it has wire strings (brass and/or precious metals). Most of the existing historical instruments have a carved-out soundbox. None of the existing Early Gaelic harps had semitone mechanisms (the popular levers, hooks or pedals), but that doesn’t mean there were no chromatic Early Gaelic harps – in fact there are fragments of the Cloyne harp, which had an additional row of strings – possibly chromatic.
The technique of playing on an Early Gaelic harp is different than the classical harp technique. The strings are struck with the fingernails (not plucked with fingers), and damped with the fingertips, thereby achieving an unusual sustain and harmony.
Just like the harpers mentioned in the old literature, I keep my instrument on my left shoulder (contemporary harps are held on the right shoulder), so that the left hand plays the melody and the ornaments, and the right hand accompanies it by playing the bass strings and only occasionally takes over the accented notes of the melody.
My harp also recreates the historical tuning – it has two strings with the same tone (na comhluighe), which form the conventional boundary between the bass accompaniment strings and the soprano melody strings.
The first harp i played was Shirka – a Musicmaker’s Kits Limerick Lap harp with 26 steel strings, assembled by Mirosław Baran, a luthier from Poznań
My second harp, the one I’m currently playing, is Mairi – a replica of the Queen Mary Harp exhibited in Edinburgh, and made by Leszek Pelc (polish language website only) of Rzeszow, Poland. See the harp’s subpage.
I also own a small, 19-strings travel harp – Selmara – made by Wojtek Wieconkowski of Metaphoric’s Tools.
My dream harp, which I recently commissioned from Natalia Surina of Ériú Harps is an exact copy of the Kildare Harp.