Poetry, Harping, and Brigid

It’s Imbolc, or Brigid, the first day of Spring on the Celtic calendar.  Crocuses are in flower in the garden, and the sun visited for the entire day.

Crocuses in bloom on Imbolc, 2011.

In honor of Brigid, patroness of smithcraft, poetry and healing, and in observance of the 6th annual Brigid poetry festival by some people I know, let’s listen to Giolla Brighde Mac Con Midhe, a late 13th century Irish poet who rails against the limitations set on poetry in medieval Ireland:

Had lays not preserved their deeds,/though they were noble men,/a cloak would long since have fallen/on Niall, Cormac and Conn.

The line of kings of Cashel and Cruachan,/The house of Three Hostels’ scions,/Tuathal of Tara and Dath Í:/Poets are the roots of those pedigrees.

Were there no poetry sung/To sweet-strung harp or timpan,/none would know of noble passed,/nor his repute nor manly prowess.

(The Celtic Poets, pp. 341-2, trans. Patrick K. Ford)

The concept of “manly prowess” raises modern eyebrows, but let’s remember the antiquity of this piece, and its intended argument.

On Imbolc 2011, I feel very wealthy indeed.  Today I spent some time reading Seamus Heaney’s new volume of poems, Human Chain, and enjoyed my warm house filled with shelves of good books.  My ancient cat is snuggled up next to me, probably in the last few months of her long twenty years of life, but still enjoying simple pleasures like a pool of warm sunlight on the rug in the late afternoon.  Just yesterday, I received a morning email from David Kortier, whom I commissioned over a year ago to build a replica Trinity College harp for me.  He sent photos of its progress, along with photos of a friend’s beautiful Sirr harp.  That was a thrill!

In spite of chronic shyness about my playing, I decided to post a not-a-video music clip on YouTube.  The music is Duncan MacRae of Kintail’s Lament, a piobaireachd that Ann Heymann introduced in a pibroch workshop at Scoil na gCláirseach in Kilkenny in the summer of 2009.  This past fall I played some variations of it at a fundraiser concert, with fairly good results.

Happy Brigid to you.  I hope that it is filled with poetry, inspiration, and music.



6 Responses

  1. Yes, happy Imbolc, and happy year of the Rabbit.

    Very nice playing. I’m always fascinated by the way people interpret piobaireachd for the harp.

    Here’s an interesting story about moss. Just when you thought it was safe to go into the woods…

  2. Hi, Peter.
    My entire back garden is one great carpet of emerald moss. Now I’ll have to keep a sharp eye on it! Do you play piobaireachd on the harp? I’d like to hear about your experiences. There are a few others I’m working on, but they’re not presentable just yet.

    • Hi Sue

      Yes, I’ve been experimenting with piobaireachd ever since I heard Ann Heymann’s CD “Queen of Harps”. I have “The Kilberry Book of Ceol Mor” and learnt to play “MacDonald of Kinlochmoidart’s Lament No. 2” the way she played it. I have Alan Stivell’s “Harpes du Nouvel Age” CD that has a bit of piobaireachd on it, also Violain Mayor’s CD, not to mention “Harp of Gold”, oh and others.

      As I wrote in reply to your hallowe’en post, my current piobarieachd lab rat is “The MacLeods’ Salute”. I haven’t settled on a way to interpret ceol mor on the harp though. At this point I still prefer hearing what others are doing! One thing I like to do is imitate a crunluath ornament by playing 6 notes, like g’a’d”, 3 with one hand and the same three with the other hand to make a warbly sound. I’ve also tried using plethiad y pedwarbys as an ornament. Using the warbly g’a’d” ornament for The MacLeods’ Salute crunluath variation makes it sound like a dance somehow. I have a piobaireachd tutor, and a few CD’s but I feel a bit rudderless at this point.


  3. Hi, Peter.

    Can I coerce you into sharing a clip of your approach to the MacLeod’s Salute? Your description of the 6 note warble utilized in the crunluath variation would be worth hearing! Like you, I’m busy developing an approach to piobaireachd for the clarsach, and just spent several months working with Simon Chadwick on this very subject. He knows his stuff. By the way, he got me listening to Bonnie Rideout’s Fiddle Piobaireachd, Vol. I, which is a revelation, and very good and intriguing listening overall.

    Now I’m going to find a good recording of MacDonald of Kinlochmoidart’s Lament #2, as I have no idea what it sounds like. You’ve clearly been doing a lot of experimenting. I remember you mentioned your earlier work on Ann’s version of the Lament for the Harp. My local friend Sam learned it from Ann this past summer.

    Please share a clip (or two or three) with me privately if you’re not ready to post publicly. I’d love to hear what you are working on. It was scary for me to upload that little 3 1/2 minute music clip. It’s the first recording of my wobbly playing I’ve ever posted. Thanks for writing.


    • Oh, MacDonald of Kinlochmoidart’s Lament No.2 /is/ Lament for the harp. Ann just changed the title.

      Yeah, I’m leery of Youtube for some reason, but I might try Vimeo. Also our camera is getting old and the sound is not that good but I’ll think about it.

  4. Hello Again

    I just found a short GOM clip of the crunluath ornament played with a simple octave drone but it gives you the idea. I forgot I had this. g’, a’, d” played upward starting with the bass hand, using 4,3,1, and doing the same thing with the treble hand at almost the same time. Usually I accompany it with different 5ths.

    Send me an address that I can send it to if you like. I’ll still work on making a longer clip that shows it better. It’s about 3Mb.


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