The new owner of what used to be a children’s school in Ballyfinnane, Co. Tipperary (in green, albeit damp, Ireland) was digging about in the adjacent bog with plans of erecting a guest house.
Quite unexpectedly he unearthed a strange object that looked like a harp, but strung wrong.
He showed it to some locals, who in turn got ahold of an expert in Celtic history and lore who also happened to run the local pub.
What was found was a remarkably preserved crossed harp. It resembled a standard harp (notably present on a bottle of Harp Lager) with a curious string arrangement.
Rather than have the strings run straight up and own, a crossed harp was strung such that strings crossed over other strings, touching one another.
There were believed to be two “standard” (for a such a thing) variations: strings run such that they looked like a series of "X"s, and strings strung such that they appeared to be a series overlapping zigzags.
The instrument was believed to have originated in the Celtic Bronze Age, and metal strings were used. As the strings touched, the resulting sound was quite unlike a standard harp. Here, we had a far more percussive noise.
It was believed (if oral tradition is to be trusted) that performers would pluck the string and, at times, smack them with a stick. Assorted tones would be produced by pulling on a string while plucking/hitting a touching string.
There is, of course, no record of any notated music.
For reasons unknown the instrument never spread from this part of Tipperary and before long disappeared entirely.
What’s presented here is, thus far, the only recorded crossed harp music in the world.
Bain sult as an ceol!
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