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Belfast City

Gathering To Call For Action On Belfast’s Assembly Rooms

‘Manifestation’ urges action to save the site of Harpers’ Assembly 230 years ago

The public has been urged to join a gathering on Saturday July 16, to urge Belfast City Council to save the historic Assembly Rooms that sit at the junction of North Street and Waring Street.

The event – entitled ‘The Manifestation: Belfast Harpers Assembly Gathering’ – is part of the Harps Alive Festival, which commemorates the 230th Anniversary of the Belfast Harpers’ Assembly that took place in the building at the height of Belfast’s enlightenment period.

In speeches, the Council will be urged to acquire the building for public use, after years of neglect for the Grade B1 listed building that was built in 1769.

Co-Chair of the Harps Alive Festival, John Gray, explained that the Assembly Rooms is listed on the ‘Heritage At Risk Register’ since 2003. “The Assembly Rooms is the oldest public building in Belfast dating from 1769,” he said.

“That famous assembly of harpers which we are commemorating took place here in this building in 1792.

“Many other important cultural and civic events in that enlightenment era took place here. It was here that the Belfast Harbour Commissioners were established.

“It was here that, famously, the citizens of Belfast rejected plans to create a slave trading company, and it was here that United Irish leaders, including Henry Joy McCracken, were court martialled and sentenced to death in 1798.”

In the 19th century, the building was converted for banking, but even those changes retained the neo-classical style and it was listed in 1975 after being acclaimed as Belfast’s Best Kept Public Building in 1979.

The Ulster Architecture Heritage organisation has said that general maintenance of the building has “fallen by the wayside and has suffered from vandalism”.

Frank Bunting, a descendant of Edward Bunting, who famously transcribed the music of those harpers in 1792 will be part of the gathering on Saturday. 

“230 years ago Belfast sponsored the long acclaimed assembly of harpers in this venerated building,” he said. “To Belfast’s shame this historic asset now stands neglected and decaying, yet far from lost. 

“The Assembly Rooms are ripe for immediate and respectful rejuvenation, whilst seizing a glaring opportunity for the city. 

“The building should become one of Belfast’s cultural and tourist centrepieces – not just as a monument to traditional Irish music, loved the world round, but as a broader cultural venue of international appeal. It has been slow coming, but it’s not too late for the City Council to act.”

The Harps Alive Festival is a celebration across the city from July 15th to 17th with numerous events that recall the ancient harp music and the contemporary music of harpers across Ireland.

The festival is the product of a joint north-south project aiming to commemorate, celebrate and educate people on the cultural history, heritage and development of Irish harping. The main schedule of events will take place in locations throughout Belfast’s inner city from July 15-17.

An extensive schedule of events are set to be held throughout the city over the course of the festival, ranging from an exhibition at Linen Hall Library, to workshops, lectures and concerts and will conclude with a commemorative service in Dublin.

Harps Alive is as celebratory as it is informative, providing festival goers with an opportunity to hear historic harp tunes performed live, as well as to learn about the history of the harp, an instrument that is so deeply ingrained in Irish history. 

Aibhlín McCrann, Chair of Cruit Éireann │Harp Ireland and Co-Chair of Harps Alive, commented on the significance of the festival.

“Cruit Éireann│Harp Ireland is delighted to be bringing harpers from all over Ireland together to celebrate the 230th anniversary of the Belfast Harpers’ Assembly in Belfast and in Dublin,” she said.

“Our harping heritage transcends boundaries and has really connected the partners, north and south. It is wonderful to hear the harpers’ music reflecting our living tradition and to see that there is so much interest in it. 

“We are looking forward to welcoming audiences across the city of Belfast to our concerts, talks and exhibitions.”

A prelude to the festival took place on July 9, with an event honouring the life and legacy of the harper Denis Hempson, who hailed from Magilligan and who is known for Edward Bunting’s transcriptions of his playing of ancient harp tunes.

John Gray commented on the impressive scale of the event, saying: “The festival, in bringing more than 50 harpers to Belfast, will create the largest ever such assembly in Belfast.

“Marking the 230th anniversary of the assembly of harpers in Belfast, the festival will be the first harping festival to take place on such a wide scale, all-island basis since 1992.

“By hosting various events across the city, from Sailortown to the Shankill Road Library, Harps Alive strives to make harping more accessible.”

In bringing harping to a wider audience, John hopes that the festival will “achieve the widest possible engagement with the public”, and that it will “leave a lasting legacy”

To find out more about Harps Alive, and to view the full schedule of events, visit www.harpsalive.com

Belfast City

13 Events Happening At The Harps Alive Festival This Weekend

Harpers and historians will join forces in July to celebrate the 230th anniversary of the Belfast Harpers’ Assembly with five days of music and heritage in a unique cross-community series of events. 

Organised by the Harps Alive partnership, the festival will bring together the finest harpers from across the island to recognise the landmark event that collected music more than two centuries ago for future harpers to learn from and perform.

The festival features three major concerts, smaller recitals, talks and workshops taking place across the city of Belfast, in addition to an exhibition in Linen Hall Library, and a new publication on the history of harping in Ireland. 

Here are 13 events happening in Belfast this weekend:

1. Festival Launch 

Friday 15th July – Linen Hall Library

Festival launch by the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Tina Black, and launch of David Byers’ seminal Gatherings of Irish Harpers 1780-1840, especially commissioned for the festival, with harpers Laoise Kelly and Adam O’Neill.

6pm | Free

To find out more, go to https://bit.ly/3yzxiMN 

2. Exhibition | The Harp and Its Heritage

Friday 15th – Sunday 17th July – Linen Hall Library

The Linen Hall Library is a unique institution which was founded in 1788 by a group of artisans as the Belfast Reading Society and in 1792 became the Belfast Society for Promoting Knowledge. It has played a significant role in the preservation of the harpers’ repertoire. 

Early members of the Library organised a festival of harp music in July 1792 ‘with the intention of having the music taken down and recorded for the first time’. The Library was instrumental in supporting the subsequent publishing of this music. The exhibition will also feature some of Edward Bunting’s notes and manuscripts from the Queen’s University collection which will be on display for the duration of the Festival.

3. Harp Maker’s Workshop and Concert

Saturday 16th July – Shankill Road Library

Did you ever wonder how harps are made, how the wood is chosen, how the beautiful sonorous tone emerges from a chunk of wood? Come along and discover how one of the North’s most renowned harp makers turns out instruments that are in demand worldwide.

Hear the harp being played by well-known Causeway harper, Katy Bustard and you’ll appreciate the craft behind the art.

10am | Free

For more information, go to https://bit.ly/3Pq8AFy

4. Harps Are Fun! Workshop with Sharon Carroll

Saturday 16th July – Turas, East Belfast Mission, Skainos Building, Newtownards Rd

Harper Sharon Carroll delves into the magic of Irish legend and invites children to come along to be spellbound by enchanting harp sounds and intriguing stories. This is an hour out for all the family. You might even have a chance to try out a harp for yourself!

10am | Free

For more information, go to https://bit.ly/3AMBc7O

5. Denis Hempson, the Harper and his Legacy presented by Mark Doherty and Fiona Pegrum with harp music from Ciara Taaffe

Saturday 16th July – First Presbyterian Church, Rosemary Street, Belfast

Historian Mark Doherty and genealogist Fiona Pegrum alongside North Coast harpers present a captivating account of the life and times of Magilligan harper Denis Hempson who was 97 when he performed at the Belfast Harpers’ Assembly of 1792.

12pm | £5

For more information and tickets, go to https://bit.ly/3z3MOSk

6. Lunchtime Concert: Northern Stars

Saturday 16th July – First Presbyterian Church, Rosemary Street

Three shining lights of Irish harping Gráinne Meyer, Adam O’Neill, and Ciara Taaffe come together to showcase their diverse styles in a lunchtime concert of harpers’ music. They will also present the first live performance of Gránne Hambly’s commission for Cruit Éireann | Harp Ireland, an arrangement of An Rós Beag Dubh from the Bunting Collection and Bundoran Junction composed by Patrick Davey.

1pm | £5

For more information and tickets, go to https://bit.ly/3Po5XUt

7. Citizens’ Manifestation

Saturday 16th July – Assembly Rooms, 3 Waring St, Belfast

The Assembly Rooms at the junction of North Street and Waring Street is the oldest public building in Belfast, dating back to 1769. It was here that the celebrated Assembly of Harpers took place in 1792. It lay at the centre of eighteenth century social life. It was here that the Belfast Harbour Commissioners were established, and here that Belfast’s citizens rejected a proposal to set up a slave trading company. United Irish leader, Henry Joy McCracken, was court-martialled here prior to his execution in 1798. 

Now semi-derelict it stands as a reproach to the citizens of Belfast. Our Citizens’ Manifestation at 2.30pm on Saturday 16 July will make the case for Belfast City Council to acquire the building for use as a centre to celebrate our city’s enlightened 18th century era. All welcome.

2:30pm | Free

For more information, go to https://bit.ly/3ccSmRx

8. Early Harp Discovery Day: Listen, Learn, Have a Go! with Simon Chadwick and Sylvia Crawford

Saturday 16th July – Clifton House, 2 Clifton St

Would you like to learn more about, and even get your hands on a copy of an ancient Irish harp – and be taught a tune? Meet the Historical Harp Society of Ireland, hear this rare instrument played in concert, have your questions answered at an illustrated talk, and – if you sign up early enough – take one of up to eight places in a hands-on beginners’ workshop. Listen to, and ask questions, at a 45-minute illustrated talk on the fascinating history of the Early Irish Harp. 

Join a 75-minute, hands-on workshop for beginners. Harps, copied from medieval to 18th-century originals, will be available on a first-come, first-served basis.

3:30pm | Free

For more information, go to https://bit.ly/3PqhJO8

9. 230 Years a-Harping Commemorative Concert

Saturday 16 July – First Presbyterian Church, Rosemary Street 

Harpers from all over Ireland gather to recreate the Belfast Harpers’ Assembly held around this time 230 years ago. Eleven harpers attended. Six were blind. The eldest, Denis Hempson (1695 -1807) from Derry, was 97. He was the only one to use the ancient way of playing with the fingernails. The 19 year old organist Edward Bunting (1773- 1843) was employed to write down the music of the harpers and to transcribe their techniques. This became a lifelong passion and he subsequently published three volumes of music in 1796, 1809 and 1840, which he called The Ancient Music of Ireland. 

Siobhán Armstrong (Early Irish Harp), singer Doimnic Mac Giolla Bhríde and harper Laoise Kelly revisit some of the harpers’ music collected by Edward Bunting, while 13 of our younger harpers select and perform their favourite harpers’ tunes from the collection.

8pm | £20

For more information and tickets, go to https://bit.ly/3IyMC0C

10. Seinnigí Linn le Cormac de Barra (Workshop and Concert)

Sunday 17th July – An Cultúrlann

Internationally acclaimed harper Cormac de Barra invites you to a workshop at An Cultúrlann in Belfast. No matter what your standard, come along and take part. There will be something in it for everybody. And that’s not all … Cormac rolls up his sleeves for a special family concert at 1pm, where you will hear the best of harpers’ music from one of our most renowned harpers.

12pm | Free

For more information, go to https://bit.ly/3Pa4qSj

11. Taking the Tune: ‘3 Tunes to go’ (Workshop and Concert)

Sunday 17th July – St Joseph’s, Sailortown

Come along to St Joseph’s, Sailortown, for our ‘3 tunes to go’ challenge. See how quickly you can pick up a harp tune from Luke Webb, Eilis Lavelle and Lauren O’Neill. Relax then into your Sunday afternoon with our Harp Moments concert where Luke, Eilís and Lauren perform their favourite Bunting tunes.

12pm | Free

For more information, go to https://bit.ly/3NXtkDm

12. From Mayo to Belfast with Harper Hugh Higgins

Sunday 17th July – The Duncairn

Winner of the TG4 Gradam na Bliana, harper Laoise Kelly, journeys from Mayo to Belfast with Hugh Higgins, one of the blind harpers of the Assembly of 1792. She revisits some of his music and tells his story.

2pm | £5

​​For more information and tickets, go to https://bit.ly/3axFPru

13. Gala Finale Concert | Harps Alive, An Chruit Bheo, Harps Leevin

Sunday 17th July – St Joseph’s, Sailortown

The Festival culminates with a celebration of our living tradition showing the exciting trajectory of harping at the present time. 

Kathleen Loughnane takes up the story with some music from the harpers Connellan – William and Thomas, whose music Bunting also featured. She is joined by her son Cormac Cannon and we hear the incomparable partnership of harp and pipes – the soul and sound of Ireland. Harpers Anne-Marie O’Farrell and Cormac de Barra are two of the most dynamic players at the current time; they play a scintillating combination of harpers’ music arranged in a contemporary way. 

The evening ends with a tribute to the Belfast Harp Orchestra with Director Janet Harbison, who established the Grammy award-winning harp orchestra in 1992, bringing harpers together from both political traditions so that it quickly became a model of cross-community co-operation. She is joined by some of its former members, now professional harpers, together with soloists; singer Mairéad Healy and whistle player and piper, Patrick Davy.

8pm | £20

For more information and tickets, go to https://bit.ly/3nWS0Bh

Last weekend Harps Alive had a fantastic opening in Magilligan and Mussenden Temple, Downhill, where the life and music of Denis Hempson was celebrated. 

The Harps Alive events culminate with two free-admission events in Dublin, an illustrated talk, Edward Bunting: The Dublin Connection and a commemoration, Edward Bunting Remembered: Wreath-laying ceremony, words, poetry and harp music.

Aibhlín McCrann, Chair of Cruit Éireann Harp Ireland, said that celebrating the anniversary presented a unique musical opportunity for the harping community.

“Our harping heritage transcends boundaries and has really connected the partners, north and south.

“We are looking forward to welcoming audiences across the city of Belfast to our concerts, talks and exhibitions and in Dublin later in the month.”

For more information or to purchase tickets go to http://harpsalive.com

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Belfast City

Dublin Harper To Perform At Belfast Music Festival Concert This Weekend

By Zahra Baz

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Dublin-native Anne-Marie O’Farrell will be taking to the stage this weekend as one of the many harpers due to perform at the Harps Alive│An Chruit Bheo│Harps Leevin festival Gala Finale Concert.

Growing up surrounded by music and with Mary O’Hara serving as an inspiration, Anne-Marie’s passion for music and the harp in particular has established her as the leading lever harpist of her generation.

Recognised for her transcriptions of the keyboard and lute, and her pedal harp repertoire for the Irish Harp, as well as a range of unique levering techniques, Anne-Marie has led the transformation of the Irish harp as a concert instrument.

With influence shaping the future of the harp-scene, Anne-Marie’s ongoing renowned work has resulted in leading harp makers Salvi Harps redesigning their level harps with concert instrumentals in mind; an accomplishment Anne-Marie considers to be her biggest achievement to date.

Alongside her many accolades, Anne-Marie is an established composer known for expanding the possibilities of the Irish harp through her dynamic ability to marry the traditional with the contemporary. With nine albums under her wing, the harper’s recent release ‘Embrace: New Directions’ has been dubbed a signature album.

“I included many groundbreaking premiere recordings of pieces never before recorded on the Irish harp. I get a great kick out of breaking perceived boundaries of the instrument,” said Anne-Marie. 

“I love connecting music with sacredness and creating a really full sound.” 

Bringing her talents to Belfast, Anne-Marie will be performing at the Gala Finale Concert on Sunday 17th July at St. Joseph’s Church, Sailortown at 8pm.

Organised by the Harps Alive partnership, the festival will bring together the finest harpers from across the island to recognise the landmark event that collected music more than two centuries ago for future harpers to learn from and perform.

The partnership between Harp Ireland and Reclaim The Enlightenment is to mark 230 years since the Belfast Harpers’ Assembly in Belfast. In 1792 the Harpers’ Assembly in Belfast brought together 11 harpers, seven of which were blind and the eldest Denis Hempson was 97 at the time.

Aibhlín McCrann, Chair of Cruit Éireann Harp Ireland, said that celebrating the anniversary presented a unique musical opportunity for the harping community.

“We are delighted to bring harpers from all over Ireland together to mark 230 years since the Belfast Harpers’ Assembly in Belfast” she said. 

“Our harping heritage transcends boundaries and has really connected the partners, north and south.

“It is wonderful to hear the harpers’ music reflecting our living tradition and to see that there is so much interest in it. We are looking forward to welcoming audiences across the city of Belfast to our concerts, talks and exhibitions and in Dublin later in the month.”

The Gala Finale will see Anne-Marie perform alongside longtime friend and colleague Cormac De Barra.

“Our show will be a fabulous mix of harp duet, on pedal harp and Irish harp, music by O’Carolan, Handel, Tarrega and ourselves. Everyone brings different gifts to an occasion, so it’ll be a lively and cheerful programme”, shared Anne-Marie. 

“I’m quite excited – I do what I love and I love what I do! It’s an honour to be taking part in this year’s festival.”

John Gray, Chair of Reclaim the Enlightenment said the Harps Alive│An Chruit Bheo│Harps Leevin festival is rooted in musical history.

“In bringing more than 50 harpers to Belfast, the festival will create the largest ever such assembly in the city,” he said. 

“It will be a celebration of the heritage of the harp and the contemporary revival of harp playing, and when it concludes we hope to have created more awareness of the harp tradition with the public and leave a lasting legacy.”

For tickets to Anne-Marie’s show and for more information about the festival go to http://harpsalive.com

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