Coleraine sisters join Harps Alive Festival lineup this weekend

Coleraine sisters and harpers Kathryn Weir and Susannah Weir are set to perform as part of the Harps Alive/An Chruit Bheo/Harps Leevin festival in Belfast this weekend.

This year’s Harps Alive/An Chruit Bheo/Harps Leevin festival is bringing together harpers and historians from throughout the island in celebration of the 230th anniversary of the assembly of harpers in Belfast, while also serving as a recognition to the renowned works of organist and collector Edward Bunting. Having already opened with events in Magilligan and Mussenden Template last weekend, the upcoming events are filled with music, history and heritage.

Talented harpists and sisters Kathryn and Susannah will be performing in the Gala Finale Concert on Sunday (July 17) in a tribute to the Belfast Harp Orchestra and celebrating the current dynamic harping tradition in Ireland.

Hosted in St Joseph’s, Sailortown, The Gala Finale Concert will bring together a fantastic end to the Harps Alive events in Belfast, celebrating the exciting trajectory of harping at the present time. “We have played the Irish harp since 1996 and we were taught by Janet Harbison who wanted to introduce the harp back into the area where Denis Hampsey, a famous blind harper, was from,” they said.

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    Susannah Weir

    The sisters were previously involved with the Hampsey Harpers, playing at various local events before becoming members of the Belfast Harp Orchestra from 1997 to 2004. “Through the orchestra, we had the opportunity of touring Ireland, France, and Germany.We also attended fun residential summer schools in Glencolmcille and the Glens of Antrim, learning about the history of the harp, sharing music, and meeting new friends. We had great opportunities playing with other musicians; the Chieftains, Brian Kennedy, and also performed on Blue Peter. More recently we occasionally busk in Bath and have started creating some of our own compositions for our own enjoyment and to increase our repertoire,” Kathryn and Susannah said.

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    Organised by the Harps Alive partnership, the festival is bringing 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, six of whom were blind, and the oldest harper, 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.”

    Kathryn Weir

    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 The Gala Finale Concert and for more information about the festival go to http://harpsalive.com