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The "Queen Mary" Harp

Why the "Queen Mary" Harp is so called?. This was the question I often made to myself the first time I saw this delightful surviving instrument.

Let us recall that Queen Mary Stuart, traditionally has been associated with the harp. At this point we cannot consider she perhaps played this instrument , now restored and preserved at the National Museum of Scotland, since it is dated to the 14th or 15th century and along with the Lamont Harp and the "Trinity Harp" aka the "Brian Boru" , is one of the only three surviving medieval Gaelic harps.


The Queen Mary Clàrsach na Banrìgh Màiri or Lude Harp, is believed to to have originated in Argyll, in South-West Scotland. The Queen Mary harp is a very rare and valuable survivor, About 15 more survive from between 1500 and 1800 AD.

Harp music was important in the Highlands in the Medieval Period, with great lords retaining their own harpers. The hereditary harpers of the Lords of the Isles were the MacIlschenochs, based in Kintyre

Mary Stuart (1542-1587), Queen of Scots, daughter of James V Stuart and Marie de Guise Lorraine, at the age of six arrived in France with her ladies-in-waiting: Mary Seton, Mary Beaton, Mary Livingstone, and Mary Fleming (the four Mary's). She received an excellent education at the French Court of Henri II de Valois. With Elisabeth, her companion, (a daughter of Henri II and Catherine de'Medici, later known as Ysabel Felipe, Queen Consort of Philip II, King of Spain), Mary Stuart learnt to play the harp, lute, zithern and virginal, to write poetry, to knit in wools and sew in silk, and what she loved most, to embroider. She was taught the new Italian style of handwriting and she signed her name in French as Marie Stuart, instead of Mary Stewart in Scottish.

The "Queen Mary" Harp is an early Irish harp or wire strung cláirseach. A "Small Low Headed" design; 29 strings, longest 61cm, one extra bass string added later.

According to the National Museum of Scotland, “The Queen Mary clarsach, or West Highland harp, is one of the objects that defines Scotland.”

Appearance

The Queen Mary harp is noted for being the most complete and best-preserved of all the old harps. It is covered in original and intricate carving, The forepillar or (Lamhchrann) is elaborately carved with a double-headed fish and the instrument retains, clear traces of

A grave-slab in the chapel at Keills in Knapdale has a carving of a clarsach similar to the Queen Mary Harp. The Queen Mary harp is noted for being the most complete and best-preserved of all the old harps. It is covered in original and intricate carving, The forepillar or (Lamhchrann) is elaborately carved with a double-headed fish and the instrument retains, clear traces of its original paint. The decoration includes a number of pieces of Christian symbolism suggesting that the harp may have been made as a commission for a church or monastery. The vine-scrolls and the particular shape of the "split palmette" leaves have clear parallels with 15th century West Highland grave slabs from the Argyll area, suggesting that this is the time and place that the harp originated.

Replicas
Replicas of both the Lamont and Queen Mary Harps with gold and silver wire strings are played by harpists and built by David Kortier, based on his measurements from the original to reproduce its idiosyncratic string spacing, angles and overall ergonomics. Student replicas are available from the Historical Harp Society of Ireland. The most accurate replica was made by Roscommon sculptor Davy Patton and is played by Simon Chadwick; it can be heard on his CD Clàrsach na Bànrighe . A complete detail information can be found on Simon Chadwick Official Site

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