Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Life and Times of this John Egan Harp

Egan and unfinished painting on Egan replica

John Egan is said by many to have invented the modern Irish folk harp. The dates for his work vary, but the leading expert on Egan has him making harps at 30 Dawson St. from 1815 to 1835 ( Hurrell at http://www.hurrellharp.com/TheRoyalPortableHarp.pdf ). Dates for his first making harps range from 1792 to 1804.

Certainly, he invented his folk or "portable" harps at a critical time in Irish history and Irish music. The bardic tradition of Irish harping was ending with the last convention of Irish harpers in Belfast in 1792 - a few old men, who would all die early in the next century. ( Chadwick at http://www.earlygaelicharp.info/harps/others.htm ).

The new folk harps designed by Egan made it possible for a new generation of Irish harpers to carry on the harping tradition. As to their different style, Simon Chadwick, the honorary secretary of the Historical Harp Society of Ireland, writes "Despite their late date I am happy for them to be included as "Gaelic harps" because not only did they have brass wire strings, and were played by harpers who had been taught by students of Arthur O'Neill and Patrick Quin, but at least one of those harpers, Patrick Byrne, knew of the old term "na cawlee" (as he put it) and so presumably used this distinctive feature of Gaelic harp tuning." (Chadwick)

John Egan presented one of his portable harps to Thomas Moore, who, having lost friends from his student days at Trinity, during the United Men's uprising, wrote romantically of Irish nationalism and the harp as a central theme in such songs as "Minstrel Boy" or poems as, "The Harp that once through Tara's halls".

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