The Celtic harp

The Celtic harp originally had metal strings and was played with the fingernails, and thus had a very bright sound
. Modern harps are more typically strung with nylon strings, which gives it a softer but more luminous sound. Celtic harpists were traditionally charged with mastering three kinds of music: healing music, music that inspired people to dance, and music that fanned the flames of battle passion.

The resonance of harps is often thought to give harp music its healing qualities. Today there exist numerous harp societies that regularly visit hospitals, bringing this beautiful music to places where healing is needed.

In the middle ages, a harp player was an indispensable part of a Gaelic lord's entourage, providing music for the assembly's entertainment. Harp music also was often used to accompany the recitation of poems or stories. Such harpers were revered and treated as valuable members of the household, and their harps were often elaborately carved and studded with precious jewels. A harp player was also usually an important member of troops, as another traditional purpose of the harp was to stir fire in a soldier's veins so that he would go to brave and fierce battle. Harps inspired such passionate nationalism that harpists were harshly persecuted by the English in the 1500s. Queen Elizabeth I issued a royal decree in Ireland that harps were to be destroyed and harpers executed wherever they were found.

At the end of the 17th century, harpists could no longer be afforded by their patrons, the Irish nobles who had lost much of their wealth. Itinerant, wandering harpers became a common sight then. Instead of depending solely on one rich patron, they traveled from place to place, visiting a number of patrons and trading music for food and lodging. One of the most famous harp players and composers of all time, Turlogh O'Carolan was a blind musician who lived such a wanderer's life.

Today, people are free to acquire or build, and play, a variety of harps, in a number of different styles, free from persecution. The image of a harp brings to mind a time of long ago, when magical music issued forth from bejeweled harps for the pleasure of noble lords and ladies, inspiring gaeity and dancing.