The Egan Harp

In the early nineteenth century, the leading harp maker in Ireland was John Egan (active 1801–41), who in 1821 attained the prestigious royal warrant of Harp Maker to His Majesty George IV, which the monarch bestowed upon his historic visit to Ireland.

Egan first manufactured French-style pedal harps with decorative Neoclassical designs, which were popular with aristocratic ladies; later, he invented his new Portable Harp, a small gut-strung instrument formed in an Irish harp shape—which is to say with a high head and a bowed pillar—and covered in patriotic golden shamrocks. Egan also contributed to the Irish harp revival movement by supplying newly designed wire-strung harps to Dublin’s Irish Harp Society (1809–12) and the Belfast Harp Society (1819– 39) for their charitable schools, where the ancient harp music was taught to poor blind boys.

However, his crowning achievement was the petite Royal Portable Irish Harp, capable of key changes via ring stops or ivory ditals; this model was copied by succeeding generations of harp makers including Morley and Clark, evolving into today’s Irish or Celtic harp.

(Nancy Hurrell)