PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins took time during his visit to Limerick this week to hear the wonderful sounds emanating from the Irish Harp Centre at Castleconnell.
Managed by Dr Janet Harbison, the Irish Harp Centre offers training in the instrument at all levels, from junior, teenage and adult beginners to professional qualification and career mentoring.
Dr Harbison penned a piece entitled ‘Brian Boru: the Lion of Ireland’, which was staged at St Mary’s Cathedral last year.
There, students from the Harp Centre joined other harpists from Ireland, France America, and vocalists from six different choirs in the spectacular.
And President Higgins picked up on their participation in the showpiece event, which played a major role in the millennium celebrations for the High King.
“Particular congratulations are also due to those involved in the magnificent event “Brian Boru, Lion of Ireland”, which took place last August in St. Mary’s Cathedral. I understand that it consisted of no fewer than 70 harps, a 40 strong choir as well as soloists. Logistically as well as musically it was a magnificent feat,” he said.
President Higgins pointed out Ireland is the only country in the world which has a musical instrument as a national emblem.
“Since the foundation of the State in 1922, the harp has been used as the official symbol of our government, appearing on our coins, passports, and government stationary. Its elegant form represents tradition, dignity and heritage,” he said on his visit, after listening to the youth orchestra perform sections of the show.
President Higgins, a noted lover of music, added: “The harp is one of Europe’s oldest music traditions and is both ‘classical’ and ‘traditional’ – classical in that it is the court music of the nobility performed by a highly trained class of professionals – and traditional in that it is ancient and born of our Celtic origins. It is older than the concertina or uilleann pipes and has continually evolved, each century offering much diversity in its repertoire, from self accompanied songs to the music of the blind harper Turlough O’Carolan.”
Of course, Ireland has long produced musicians which have performed on the international stage.
“The diversity and quality of creativity in Ireland is the most important ingredient in fostering our reputation of being a dynamic and culturally rich nation. The arts are an important part of people’s lives and we are rightly proud of our artists, writers, musicians and performers. I believe that it is important that we continue to develop an appreciation of our indigenous music and art, at both a grassroots level and abroad, in order to ensure a knowledgeable audience who can appreciate and support the talented artists this country produces,” President Higgins added.
He said the Irish Harp Centre is crucial to this.
“It is now almost 13 years since Dr. Harbison came to Limerick and established two new stage groups – the Irish Harp Orchestra and the National Harp Orchestra, which have both inspired much interest in the Irish harp. This centre forms an integral part of the artistic community in Limerick and it is through its accessible, engaging training programmes and performances that the Centre’s cultural appeal is upheld,” he added.
As well as stopping off at the Irish Harp Centre in Castleconnell, President Higgins was also in Limerick City.
There, he unveiled a plaque in honour of one of Ireland’s most celebrated poets, the late Desmond O’Grady.
He also visited Salesians College in Pallaskery, while on Monday, he attended the funeral in the city of his former party colleague Frank Prendergast.