Mudcat Café message #3788795 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #159372   Message #3788795
Posted By: keberoxu
05-May-16 - 01:52 PM
Thread Name: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
Rather than more direct quotes from "Harpists, Harpers or Harpees?", Janet Harbison's paper for the Crossroads Conference twenty years ago (1996), this post will present one of Harbison's arguments in my own words, paraphrasing her statements. I do wish to make clear, though, that the argument is Harbison's and not mine.

Breandán Breathnach is an authority with whom Harbison has a bone to pick, along with the departed Seán Ó Riada and Ciarán Carson. Harbison is indignant with these three writers because their dismissive opinions of the Irish harp were, in Ó Riada's case, broadcast on national radio (subsequently printed and published), and in the other two cases, printed and published in reference books on traditional Irish music.

Harbison accepts Breathnach's carefully researched and documented position that dances, and dance music, largely were brought to Ireland from outside, were patronized by the upper classes first, and worked their way throughout Irish society until, at last, the traditional music learned orally by working-class, labourer musicians included the repertoire of Irish tunes composed for those very same dances. But she responds with heated emotion to Breathnach's dismissal (printed in 1971) of Carolan's harp compositions: Breathnach wrote, "by definition they cannot be regarded as folk music."

Harbison counters (page 99, printed 1999):
"I pose the question: despite the often aristocratic origins of a tradition, does it only qualify as 'folk' when it has filtered through the social classes to the lowest orders? It seems that the spokespeople for Irish music are class-restrictive....Many respected [traditional] musicians have emerged from every social stratum, but fortunately for them, it was not the harp they chose to play. It seems they have become honorary 'folk', a club not evidently open to harpers."

© Crosbhealach an Cheoil/The Crossroads Conference and "the contributors," e.g. Janet Harbison 1999
The Crossroads Conference 1996: Tradition and Change in Irish Traditional Music, edited by Fintan Vallely
Dublin: Whinstone Music, 1999