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Nora Casey, resident harpist at Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, with the Bunratty Castle Entertainers.

Bunratty to hosts inaugural harp celebration

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A unique celebration of the harp and its special place in Irish folklore and culture will take place at Bunratty Castle and Folk Park on September 2 and 3.
The inaugural two-day celebration features harpists and harp music experts from across Ireland with a series of exhibition, talks and performances marking the instrument’s unique position in the medieval banquet offering at Bunratty Castle.
‘A Celebration of the Irish Harp’ coincides with the 60th anniversary of the Bunratty Castle Medieval Banquet and the recent launch of a new exhibition chartering the history, evolution, and popularity of one of Ireland’s oldest running evening entertainment shows.
The celebration is hosted in collaboration with Deirdre O’Brien Vaughan, Director of the Irish Traditional Music Institute. The internationally renowned harpist, musician and music teacher has nurtured thousands of musicians over the last 30 years, toured and taught across the world, and has performed with Comhaltas Ceoltoirí Éireann, The Chieftains and Liam O’Flynn.
“The celebration will bring the story of the Irish harp to life through an array of talks, performances and activities based around this most symbolic of musical instruments,” said Ms O’Brien Vaughan.
“Ireland’s heraldic emblem is the harp, and we are the only nation to have a musical instrument as our national emblem. Its use as the arms of Ireland goes back to medieval times when the instrument was played in banquet halls across the country and, most notably, at Bunratty Castle where its melodic sounds have had a presence over the centuries.”
Marie Brennan, Events Manager at Bunratty Castle & Folk Park, said, “More than 3 million people have attended the banquets in Bunratty since the dramatic idea of a medieval meal in a 15th century Irish castle captured the imagination of travel agents, dignitaries, and celebrities worldwide in the 1960s. The Irish harp is the one musical instrument that people associate with this long-running event and, therefore, we are delighted to be able to celebrate its status as a symbol of Irish culture at the visitor attraction next week.”
The two-day celebration will kick off on Saturday, September 2, with sweet harp music filling the air at various locations throughout the 26-acre Bunratty Castle and Folk Park.
Author, historian and founding CEO of Shannon Heritage, Cian O’Carroll officially opens the festival in the banquet hall at 1pm. Mr O’Carroll, who worked closely with the late Dr Brendan O’Regan, will outline the importance of the Irish Harp in driving the era of innovation that sparked the inception of the Bunratty Castle Medieval Banquet 60 years ago.
Internationally celebrated harpists Aine Sheridan and Kim Fleming will be joined by an ensemble of young harpists for a recital in the Main Guard of Bunratty Castle at 2pm. Áine, hailing from Miltown in Galway, has travelled the world playing the Irish Harp for international dignitaries and royalty while Kim is one of Ireland’s most respected harpers and enjoys a successful career as a musician, teacher and arranger of traditional Irish repertoire.
Recitals will take place from midday to 4pm at Ardcroney Church, which is located within the Folk having been moved brick by brick to Bunratty from County Tipperary in 1988.
On Sunday, September 3, renowned harp maker restorer Gerard Doheny hosts a talk on Harp Restoration and an exhibition on harp maintenance and care from 1pm to 2pm in the castle. Based in Ratheniska in County Laois, Gerard specialises in bespoke handcrafted Harps and Tenor Banjos.
Ardcroney Church once again hosts Harp Recitals from midday to 4pm while Dunguaire Castle’s resident harpist, Patty Gibbons presents “From Dunmore to Bunratty – A Dream Fulfilled” at Bunratty Castle at 2pm. Inspired by the harp music of Bunratty which she attended as a child in 1967, Patty took up the instrument and 10 years later joined the Bunratty Castle Entertainers as a harpist.
The inaugural Harp Festival concludes on Sunday at 2.30pm with an ensemble of harpists from near and far performing an uplifting rendition of harp music in the unique and iconic surrounds of Bunratty Castle.

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