CD: O'Neill's Harper

O'Neill's Harper by Janet Harbison

CD Cover: O'Neill's Harper by Janet HarbisonSolo album of song and harp, featuring historic pieces and some original music dedicated to patrons in the Ulster O'Neill clan. This recording patronised by the current Lord O'Neill of Shane's Castle, Antrim.

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Audio Samples

Album Information

Instruments: Irish Harp & Voice
Genre: Traditional / Contemporary
Format: CD
Our Ref: A0032
Label: Irish Harp Centre
Year: 1988
Origin: Eire

Track Listings

01 Marcaíocht Uí Néill - O'Neill's Cavalcade
02 Lamentation of Eoghan Roe O'Neill
03 Chief O'Neill's Favorite
04 The Maid on the Shore
05 Harling's Jig
06 Sheila
07 Miss Hamilton
08 Lady Iveagh
09 The Wild Geese
10 Shane O'Neill's March
11 Siún Ní Dhuihhir
12 The Butterfly
13 The Yellow Man
14 My Lagan Love
15 Eleanor O'Connor, Mo Mháthairín
16 Tribute to O'Neill

CD Notes & Credits

Sleeve Notes

Janet Harbison

O'Neill's Harper is an album of Irish harp music and song that, while rooted in the history of the harp in Ireland brings the harp and its music well into the 20th century. Janet Harbison's contemporary, yet traditional style is arresting and her own innovative compositions prove that Irish harper-composers are far from dead. Although Janet features on at least a dozen other artistes' albums, this is her first solo contribution to the published repertoire. While most of the instrumental pieces were chosen for their historical relevance, some were chosen to honour the interests and patronage of the present Lord O'Neill, and others simply because Janet liked them!

Janet Harbison was born in Dublin and was first introduced to the harp in Sion Hill Convent under the tuition of Máirín Ferriter. Most of her influences, however, were gleaned from piping, fiddling and fluting friends, and while she is also a well known classical pianist, her style of harping is deeply rooted in the folk tradition. After winning every major harp competition in Ireland and abroad between 1979 and 1981, she embarked on an international performance career. Composition and arrangement for various media also featured prominently in her activities, and from about 1980, she became a much sought after teacher.

In 1984, Janet came to live in Belfast where she conducted a special study into the Bunting Manuscript Collection of music transcribed from the harpers at the Belfast Harpers Assembly of 1792. From 1986 to 1994 she was the Curator of Music at the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum where she managed and developed the museum's various music collections along with an extensive education and music festival programme.

Throughout the years, Janet has pioneered performance in the traditional repertoire and teaching in the age-old oral method. In 1985 she founded Cláirseóirí na hÉireann the Irish Harpers' Association, the Glencolmcille Harp Festival and in 1992, she launched the Belfast Harp Orchestra which has achieved world-wide acclaim in its own right as well as in the company of the Chieftains. Also in 1992 she directed the World Harp Festival, Belfast celebrating the Bicentenary of the Belfast Harpers' Assembly.

Now Janet has returned to her life as a freelance performer, composer, lecturer, teacher and writer on the subjects of Ireland's cultural heritage, the many voices of folk-music in Ulster today, and of course, on the illustrious tradition of Ireland's national emblem, the harp.

Programme Notes

1. Marcaíocht Uí Néill - O'Neill's Cavalcade
Like many other old marches, this is in jig time and here the tune is teamed with another composed by Janet entitled 'O'Neill's Return'.

2. Lamentation of Eoghan Roe O'Neill
This lament was composed by the famous harper Turlough O'Carolan (1670 -1738). Eoghan Roe was the leader of the Irish army at the battle of Benburb in 1646 and his death in 1649 made way for the Cromwellian settlement in Ireland.

3. Chief O'Neill's Favorite
This is the first tune to appear in the hornpipe section of Captain Francis O'Neill's mammoth collection 'The Music of Ireland'. The Captain Francis, or rather 'Chief O'Neill', was a policeman in Chicago who at the beginning of the century made a vast collection of Irish tunes for the Irish immigrant musicians dispersed throughout the U.S.

4. The Maid on the Shore
I learned this Donegal song from Rita Gallagher, one of Ireland's most significant traditional singers. It is one of tragedy where the young maid holds vigil on the shore at night for her beloved sailor who drowns at sea. She hears his voice crying to her on the breeze.

5. Harling's Jig
This tune was first known to me by the title of 'The Dusty Windowsill' which was composed fairly recently by an Irish fiddler in Chicago named Harling. The tune is sometimes also called the 'Chicago'. Here, I dared to apply my own treatment to it by starting it with a slow version of the second two parts of the three-part tune.

6. Sheila
This is a lyrical learner's piece that I composed for one of my pupils.

7. Miss Hamilton
This praise piece was composed by the harper Cornelius Lyons in the early years of the 18th century. Lyons was contemporary with Carolan and for most of his professional life enoyed the patronage of the Clandeboye O'Neills of Antrim. A number of Lyons's settings of tunes were notated from harpers of a later generation by Edward Bunting at the Belfast Harpers Festival of 1792, but this piece is the only one we know to have been composed by him.

8. Lady Iveagh
Bunting published this tune in his 1840 collection and introduced it thus:
"An air remarkable for its haughty and majestic style, suited most probably to the rank and character of the lady to whom it was addressed. The Lady Iveagh, whose name is preserved in this characteristic melody, was Sarah, daughter of Hugh O'Neill, the great Earl of Tyrone. She was married to Art Roe Magennis who was created Viscount lveagh by patent ol July 18th, 1623."
Their marriage took place in 1626.

9. The Wild Geese
The 17th Century in Ireland was one of continuous turmoil commencing with the flight of the Ulster Earls, O'Neill and O'Donnell in 1607. This lead to the Scottish and English plantation of Ulster. After further wars and plantations, the dispossessed Irish gave their support to King James who came to Ireland to wage war with the Dutch King William of Orange for the English throne. Their decisive battle was at the Boyne in 1690, but the final defeat was sealed with the Treaty of Limerick of 1691. The terms of the treaty offered options to the defeated soldiers: to return home, to join Williams army or go to France. Over 10.000 Irishmen went to Europe in exile and these came to be known as the Wild Geese. This is their lamentation.

10. Shane O'Neill's March
This rousing tune is very popular in Ulster with marching bands. My version was found in Captain Francis O'Neill's collection.

11. Siún Ní Dhuihhir
Siún Ní Dhuihhir was a maiden who submitted to a young man's temptations. The song tells of her meeting with the rogue while she was going to a fair to buy a pair of shoes. He persuaded her to drink her fill of whiskey - and after the inevitable moral downfall, she is abandoned.

12. The Butterfly
This is a well-known slipjig which has been interpreted in a number of ways. Here I apply my own ideas using a variety of techniques on the harp including harmonics.

13. The Yellow Man
Yellow man is the sticky, honeycomb sweet that is traditionally made for children at the Lammas Fair of Ballycastle, north county Antrim. The tune which originally belonged to a children's song praising the delight of the sweet, survives now only as a jig. I take some licence with its rhythm!

14. My Lagan Love
This is one of Ulster's favourite love-songs featuring a maid from the banks of the river Lagan, on which Belfast is situated. The text is that of a poem written hy Joseph McCall which was set to an old Irish air by Herbert Hughes in the early years of this century.

15. Eleanor O'Connor, Mo Mháthairín
When I first started to compose for myself, many of my tunes were dedicated to friends that had died or as presents for those who married. Around Christmas-time in 1985, my mother complained that I had not honoured my most consistantly faithful patron with a tune, so this was her gift. Thanks Mum, for everything.

16. Tribute to O'Neill
This composition is Janet's dedication to Lord Raymond O'Neill of Shane's Castle, Country Antrim.


The recordings were made on digital tape in July 1988 at Homestead Studios. Randalstown, Co. Antrim.
Engineering by Sean Wallace.
Cover design by Donald Neil of Priory Press. Holywood.
Photo by Sean Watters.

The cover shows the white marble statue of O'Neill"s harper, who continues to play for the illustrious ancestors of Ulster's most powerful and historic clan, by the family vault in the grounds of Shane's Castle on Lord O'Neill's estate in Antrim.

My thanks to Lord O'Neill of Shane's Castle for his encouragement and support in this production commemorating the historic O'Neills in the music of their harpers through the centuries.

All rights reserved.

Artist Information & Contact Details

The Irish Harp Centre

Photograph of Janet harbison
Janet Harbison
Photograph 1 of Irish Harp Orchestra
Irish Harp Orchestra
Photograph 2 of Irish Harp Orchestra
Irish Harp Orchestra
Photograph 2 of Irish Harp Orchestra
Irish Harp Orchestra

Janet Harbison

Born in Dublin on August 1st, 1955, Janet Harbison is acknowledged as one of Ireland's most prominent traditional harpers and pioneering personalities in the Irish harp music scene. She is an authoritative resource on the history and music of the Irish harp and ethnic music.

Her discovery and enthusiasm for much of the extinct ancient harp repertoire led her into teaching and reviving the music through the oral tradition. For this activity, she has often been referred to as "Ireland's Crusading Harper" and many of today's rising professional performers and teachers are former students.

To describe Janet as an influential teacher would be to tell only half of the story. She is also a prolific composer, a talented performer, writer and producer.

She established the Harp Orchestras in order to provide her students with the opportunity to perform in public and to develop careers as professional harpers.

As a composer she realized that there was little ‘new’ music being written for the Irish harp and set about correcting the imbalance. Her arrangements are widely used and harpers worldwide await her new publications with bated breath.

With more than 20 years of performance, composition, teaching and promoting the tradition of harping she has a staggering number accolades to her name.

"…wonderfully attractive, professional, faultless, highly delightful and charming, Janet Harbison’s performances are technically impeccable, and always most subtle, musical and expressive.”
DEREK BELL, Harper with the Chieftains

The Irish Harp Orchestra and The National Harp Orchestra.

The Irish Harp Orchestra is a professional touring company while The National Harp Orchestra is a junior stage production company with membership from 11 years upward. The Irish Harp Orchestra grew out of the junior orchestra and featured on a Grammy Award winning album with the Chieftains. This is an internationally touring company which features up to 16 harpers and 8 other musicians, singers and a team of up to 32 dancers in large scales concert presentations.

The National Harp Orchestra offers a unique opportunity for young and maturing people to mix in a cultural environment, to participate in large scale stage productions and gain valuable life experience, sharing in the great adventure of the orchestra on tour. Members receive training in stage craft, concert presentation, personal development, confidence building and leadership skills, TV work and recording.

The original orchestra was found in 1992 as the Belfast Harp Orchestra to celebrate the Bicentenary year of the Belfast Harpers’ Assembly an historical event which original took place in 1772. In 2004 we will establish the Irish American Harp orchestra in our continuing effort to offer all traditional harpers the opportunity to perform in public and to continue our work of promoting and celebrating the tradition of Irish Harping.

Contact Details
Irish Harp Centre
The Old School House
Chapel Hill
Co. Limerick
Telephone +353 (0)61 372777
Fax +353 (0)61 372712

Booking & Courses Please visit the Irish Harp Centre web site for full details of courses, stage school and bookings for Corporate Entertainment & Weddings.

Artists web site

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