Scoil na gCláirseach

Scoil na gCláirseach* - Summer School of Early Irish Harp is the only event of its kind, anywhere in the world. It is run by the The Historical Harp Society of Ireland.

Scoil na gCláirseach 2017 will take place 16th-22nd August at Coláiste Pobail Osraí, Ormonde Road, Kilkenny, Ireland. Our theme for 2017 is Ancient to modern. The summer school tuition, lectures and concerts will focus on exploring and experiencing the differences and the connections between the medieval Gaelic harp traditions, and the music of the last of the old Irish harpers into the 19th century Scoil na gCláirseach exists to help fill the enormous cultural gap left by the disappearance of the early Irish harp two centuries ago.

The early Irish harp, wire-strung, with a melting, bell-like resonance, was the illustrious zenith of medieval Gaelic music culture, played in Ireland - and also in the Scottish Highlands & Islands - from the early Middle Ages until the years just after 1800, when it died out. By the early 16th century, the early Irish harp came to symbolise Ireland itself, and is still depicted in the national emblem. It has been eclipsed by the modern, nylon-strung, lever harp which nows bears the name ‘Irish harp’. The Historical Harp Society of Ireland exists to promote the older instrument.

Fiachal Phadruig

Come and join participants from Ireland, and around the world, to immerse yourself in the world of Ireland's ancient and exquisite historical harp with intensive tuition, lectures, informal talks, concerts and a field trip to museums to see surviving instruments.

See our day-by-day packed schedule of events here.


Scoil na gCláirseach caters for all levels, from raw beginners to professional players of early Irish harp. We extend a particularly warm welcome to absolute beginners. Harpists, of all levels, who don't yet play early Irish harp but who are interested in historical playing techniques and repertoire are also very welcome.

Participants are divided into small groups, assigned according to experience, playing ability, and preferred way of studying. This guarantees almost individual attention for each student and with several different levels, you are sure to be in a class tailored to your needs.

We also welcome non-playing auditors.


The Society has a limited number of rental harps available for the Scoil on a first-come, first-served basis. The earlier you let us know that you would like to rent one, the higher the chance that we will have one to give you. Check out our instruments here.



We will equip you with the skills you need to source, reconstruct and play the historical repertoire of the early Irish harp: song airs, laments, marches, music composed for patrons, older dances e.g. minuets & jigs etc. and 16th- to 18th-century ‘foreign’ repertoire.

We will explore with you the repertoire of Turlough Carolan, Ruaidhrí Dall Ó Catháin, Arthur O’Neill and many others, through surviving hand-written, historic manuscripts and early printed sources, which we will help you to understand and use so that you can discover as much as possible about the old harpers’ performance traditions.

You will have a chance to learn the historical playing techniques gleaned from the old harpers at the end of the 18th century, just before the tradition died out, and will use these to play, and accompany, the tunes and to add characteristic ornamentation.

You will have a unique opportunity to play wonderful, measured copies of six different kinds of historical Irish harps, from medieval to 18th-century.

You will also be immersed in a week, not only of intensive tuition and tutor concerts, but also cutting-edge talks, lectures and workshops, which strive to help you put historical, cultural and aesthetic context around the harpers’ worlds.

By these means, we hope to get you a little closer to the world of the old Irish harpers once more, whilst acknowledging humbly that we can’t ever be sure that we’re getting it completely right.

Our focus is on depth rather than breadth. In class you will both learn by ear and have the opportunity to work with written-down sources, to extract all the juice you can from them, (and also to learn what features of them to ignore completely!). The aim of this is to inform your own playing, so that you get closer to the heart of the music.

You will come away with new repertoire to play - and harpers’ songs to sing - but our emphasis is not on teaching you only lots of new tunes but rather to teach you how to find, and reconstruct, gems of repertoire yourself, using a ‘Historically Informed Performance’ (HIP) approach. We think of it as giving you a fishing rod instead of just a fish!

If your main wish is to learn lots and lots of new tunes each day, then we might not be the summer school for you, since we take the time to help our students to understand the music from the inside out. If, however, you are interested in where tunes and songs come from, in seeing the form in which they have been preserved, and how to go about turning them back into living, breathing music, then this summer school is likely to interest you.

In short, we’re best suited to the curious of mind as well as the curious of finger!

* Scoil na gCláirseach is pronounced /ʒkʌl nə ɡlɔ.rʃɒx/