A Sebastian & Erard concert harp from the 1800s took centre stage at the monthly trad session at Headen’s pub in Spink last weekend.
The harp was restored to its near original condition by Laois master craftsman Gerard Doheny who is the owner of Irish Crafted Instruments which specialises in the design, manufacture and restoration of harps, banjos and fiddles.
It has a mammoth task to get the harp back in shape and the harp’s owner Christy Ennis was delighted to see it all in one piece after so many years.
He couldn’t wait to try it out when he played a well-known waltz called ‘The Gentle Maiden’. Christy is an accomplished musician and is well known on the session trail around the country.
The harp originally came from a family in Co. Tipperary, said Gerard who plays the banjo and is a member of Ratheniska Comhaltas.
“We believe the family lived in a castle. The story as it goes is that the eldest son in the family was leaving to make his way in the world and his mother gave him the harp as a family heirloom.”
Christy Ennis was given the harp by John Headen after it was stored in a local haybarn.
“Christy Ennis and Gerard Doheny were at one of the Spink monthly trad sessions in July 2017 where the topic of the conversation was harps,” said John.
“Gerard makes harps among other instruments and Christy plays them. I joined the conversation and said that I recently moved a seven pedal Gothic harp out of my way in the barn,” said John.
He originally bought the harp with the intention of restoring it with his neighbour Fran Mulhall to enter the antique restoration competition on the Late Late Show.
The competition was cancelled, and the harp languished in Fran Mulhall’s hayshed and never saw daylight for nearly 30 years.
Gerard Doheny was delighted to get the opportunity to work on a concert harp and recalled that although he made harps, he never made a harp of this magnitude.
Gerard and Christy agreed that Christy would bring the harp to Gerard’s workshop at the weekend, and they would have a look and see if it would be worth restoring.
“The next thing Christy arrived at my workshop. He had a pair of black bags full to the neck with pieces of wood from a harp that were riddled with woodworm, a big green container that had the pedals and other mechanical parts, and in the back of the car he had the harp in about eight different parts. It was in tatters,” said Gerard.
“This was both shocking and amusing. We looked at all of the parts and laid them out across the bench to see what was good and useful and what could be repurposed. Believe me, there were a lot of parts to go through. It was like a big jigsaw.
“Following this I agreed with Christy to have a deeper look at the parts and determine what was the best direction to go,” Gerard said.
“The decision was made to rebuild the harp and retain as much of the original harp as possible and remake any parts that were beyond repair,” he said.
“It was very challenging, and it took many hours to get the harp to a position where it was able to stand on its own without support,” he recalled.
“The next steps were to remove the brass plating and install the pedal mechanisms in the right order as they had been removed previously. Following this, the brass plates were put back and the gold ornamental work was repaired,” said Gerard.
Then the harp was strung all of 46 strings and it was tuned and ready to play once again. Gerard said that this was definitely one of the most challenging projects that he has done and he is looking forward to the next challenge.
Gerard Doheny can contacted through his website www.irishcraftedinstruments.ie for any instrument or restoration inquiries.