The image of the harp - symbolic of the political and cultural landscape of Ireland for centuries - evokes strong sentiments in the collective Irish imagination. This iconic instrument became the emblem on Irish coinage in the sixteenth century. Since then it has been symbolic of Irish culture, music, and politics - finally evolving into a significant marker of national identity in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The most important period in this evolution was between 1770 and 1880. In these years, the instrument became central to many utopian visions of an automous Irish nation and the harp's metaphoric significance eclipsed its musical one. Mary Louise O'Donnell uses these fascinating years of major social, political, and cultural change as the focus of her study on the Irish harp. From the revolutionary symbolism of the harp to the cultural curiosities that were the blind Irish harpers, the many permutations of Ireland's harp are thoroughly examined. O'Donnell also discusses how the protection and patronage of the Irish harpers passed from the aristocratic Gaelic order to the Ascendancy and affluent middle classes in Dublin and Belfast.Ireland's Harp brings to light the monumental importance of this instrument by highlighting the central place the harp occupied in the formation and expression of Ireland's cultural and national identity.
MARY LOUISE O'DONNELL holds a doctorate from the University of Limerick and is a former Irish Research Council postgraduate scholar and postdoctoral fellow. Her research on the history and performance practice of the Irish harp has been published in Utopian Studies, Eire-Ireland, and The American Harp Journal, and she has also published widely on topics relating to Irish cultural history, semiotics, and performance studies. She is a renowned harpist and has given lecture/recitals throughout Europe, North America, and Australia.