*Nora Casey, resident harpist at Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, pictured with Bunratty Castle Entertainers. Photograph: Eamon Ward.

COINCIDING with the sixtieth anniversary of the Bunratty Castle Medieval Banquet, an inaugural two-day harp celebration will take place this weekend.

Bunratty Castle and Folk Park will host the unique celebration on Saturday and Sunday which 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’ 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.

Author, historian and founding CEO of Shannon Heritage, Cian O’Carroll officially opens the festival in the banquet hall at 1.00pm. 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 2.00pm. Áine, hailing from Miltown, Co 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 4.00pm at Ardcroney Church, which is located within the Folk having been moved brick by brick to Bunratty from County Tipperary in 1988.

On Sunday, renowned harp maker restorer Gerard Doheny hosts a talk on Harp Restoration and an exhibition on harp maintenance and care from 1.00pm to 2.00pm 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 4.00pm while Dunguaire Castle’s resident harpist, Patty Gibbons presents “From Dunmore to Bunratty – A Dream Fulfilled” at Bunratty Castle at 2.00pm. 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.

Speaking to The Clare Echo, Deirdre O’Brien Vaughan stated, “I’m really looking forward to this event which will see fifteen harps playing together in Bunratty Castle, it is a great platform for the students, the content between having a lecture with Cian O’Carroll on Brendan O’Regan and Ger Doheny’s workshop on harp maintenance. It is wonderful that there have been sixty consecutive years of medieval banquets, where else would you get it. I am really looking forward to it because it is an event that highlights the importance of our national instrument”.

She added, “I have a great sense of pride that Bunratty is situated in Clare, the musical capital of our country”. Having this platform to perform is vital, Deirdre stressed, “My idea of music in general is that you need a platform, there are three aspects, playing for pleasure which is important, getting accreditation in case you want to teach but the single most important thing is to have a platform to communicative and entertain your clients”.

“When I came to Newmarket-on-Fergus I was the only person learning the harp as a child in the province, that has all changed. The furthest student that has travelled to learn here is from Dingle, they come from Dublin, Clonmel, Cashel and all over the country, I have trained most of the people teaching the harp now”. Among her former students is the late Dolores O’Riordan of The Cranberries.

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”.

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If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

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