Prior to departing for Ireland, I’d found an Irish Harp site, Craide na Cruite, which advertises harp-related events. One of these was a free concert at the Archaeology Museum of the Dublin Museum. A thousand years ago on Good Friday, there was a famous battle held at a place nearby called Clontarf, at which the High King of Ireland, Brian Boru (of Brian Boru’s march, famed in harp music history from what I can figure!) was killed. There were all kinds of events on here in Dublin at Easter, celebrating and remembering this event, and bursting a few misconceptions about it into the bargain.
I managed to get a ticket, and was at the museum very early for “The Music of the Gaels and Vikings” event. This comprised two harpists, one who played the Celtic and Irish harps – the latter being wire-strung by the sounds of it, an Irish woman storyteller, and a Danish guy who was a really good storyteller, and also played the bodhran, the bones (yes, just like ‘the spoons’ but made of bone), a cow horn, and two kinds of Danish flute, both of which looked as though they were made out of cow bones. One was long, with just three holes at one end; the other short, but it produced an amazing array of notes. Between them, they told the story of Brian Boru. The event was introduced by the Danish Ambassador who was present, and gave a good balance of ‘Viking’ and ‘Irish’ views of the history, with a liberal sprinkling of humour and music as it went along.
The photo shows the storyteller and the Irish harpist.
When the story switched across to the Vikings being invited to the battle, the Danish guy came in with his instruments, and also gave us a very lively rendition of a Danish story in which the ‘bride’ was wooed by another fellow who was not the preferred suitor. Rather than fight via the ‘100 doors to the room, each with two stout guards’, he killed off the local harpist, skinned his face and put it on, took the harpist’s place, and proceeded to entertain the assembly without being detected. Apparently he had a VERY large harp – big enough to contain a man – into which he managed to surreptitiously secrete the bride, who was a willing participant, and get her out undetected! Sounded a bit like “Young Lochinvar”, the Scandinavian version. The photo shows the narrator armed with bones and a flute which he played with one hand whilst manipulating the bones with the other! Most impressive.
At one point in the narrative, the battle of Clontarf was under way, and becoming very fierce. Both harpists were going for it like mad. One had a spoon handle, which she was using to produce metallic sounds on her strings, while the other had a piece of paper inserted between her strings, was also drawing her fingers across the tuning pegs at the ‘back’ of the harp, and concentrating like mad on her hand movements (see photo!) to reproduce the sounds of battle.
All up, the event (which was free, believe it or not) was a great combination of storytelling, harp, flutes and bodhran – not to mention ‘cow horn’ and bones!