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The Lamont Harp

On previews posts I quoted that the Lamont Harp is along with the Trinity College harp and the Queen Mary harp, one of the only three surviving medieval Gaelic harps, dated to the 14th or 15th century .

As harpist and researcher Simon Chadwick comments on his information prepared by the Wire Branch of the Clarsach Society for their website , this harp was made in the West of Scotland about 500 years ago, and preserved in the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh.

It had 32 brass strings, and is 37 1/2 inches (95 cm) high. But unlike the other two it is quite plain, with little decorative carving. It does however boast fine metal fittings.

Soon after it was made it twisted out of shape due to the tension of the wire strings. It can be difficult today, looking at its stooping form, to envisage how its maker intended it to be.

History

The Lamont harp started its life probably in the West Highlands in the mid to late fifteenth century. According to traditions in the Robertson family of Lude, the harp was brought there from Argyll by Lilias Lamont, when she married Charles Robertson of Lude (or of Clune) in 1460 or 1464.
The harp was handed down in the Robertson family and remained at Lude. It bears an inscription in late 18th century hand reading Al. Stewart of Clunie his harp 1650.

In 1805 it was sent to Edinburgh along with the Queen Mary harp (which was also kept at Lude), where both harps were exhibited to the Highland Society of Scotland. John Gunn was commissiond to write a book with a history and description of the harps, which he published in 1807.

In 1880 both of the harps were deposited by John Stewart of Dalguise in the National Museum, Edinburgh (now the Museum of Scotland), where they have remained since.

References
  • Robert Bruce Armstrong, "The Irish and Highland harps". Edinburgh 1904.
  • John Gunn, "An Historical Enquiry respecting the Performance on the harp in the Highlands of Scotland".Edinburgh 1807.

Technical Information

The Lamont harp, like most Gaelic harps, is made of four pieces of wood fitted together with mortice-and-tenon joints. The wood is often identified as hornbeam, though English Walnut has also been suggested.

At 37 1/2 inches (95 cm) high and 16 3/4 inches (42 1/2 cm) wide it is noticeably larger than the other two surviving medieval Gaelic harps (the Queen Mary and Trinity College harps). Its shape and design is also quite different, with a wider box and flatter neck. Its decoration is restrained, with only a few carved features.

The"salmon lips" that feature so prominently on the pillars of the other two are present only in vestigial form on the Lamont harp. In fact, though it has never been suggested that it was made outside of Scotland, its nearest parallel is the stone carving at Jerpoint Abbey, Ireland.

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The Lamont harp boasts fine metal fittings; the two vertical metal pieces reinfocing the joint between pillar and neck are stylised foxes, the metal cap at the head of the harp is beaten out to imitate a gem setting and the square drives of the tuning-pins are filed to resemble cloves or rosebuds. The string shoes are of two designs; those illustrated in Figure 1 are very elaborate castings, and may be later replacements.

The harp survives in reasonable condition with the glaring exception of the multiple fracture of the forepillar andthe subsequent twisting of the neck, so that the whole harp now seems hunched and distorted.

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

Any modern replica of the Lamont harp has to deal with what is perhaps its most notable feature, the broken fore-pillar and subsequent twisting of the whole frame. This seems to have happened very soon after the harp was made, and is probably due to an error of judgement on the part of the harpmaker.

The T-shaped center section of the forepillar, a feature of most Gaelic harps, is present on the Lamont harp, but it is very short and only covers the central section of the pillar. It is not big enough to strengthen the pillar against the tension of the trings.

In these two Lamont replicas you can see two different approaches to the problem. Javier Sáinz’s harp, by Guy Flockhart (below left) has been made as a faithful copy of the original, but Alison Kinnaird’s instrument, by Bob Evans (below right) perhaps represents what the maker of the Lamont harp should have done, by including a significantly longer and stronger T-section reinforcing the forepillar.
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