Thursday, July 31, 2014


The nine instruments in general use among the ancient Irish including the professional names of the various performers were:
  1. Cruitire [harper]; 
  2. Timpanach [timpanist]; 
  3. Buinnire [flute player]; 
  4. Cornaire [horn player]; 
  5. Cuisleannach [player on the bag-pipes]; 
  6. Fedanach [fife player]; 
  7. Graice [horn player]; 
  8. Stocaire and Sturganaidhe [trumpeter]; 
  9. Pipaire [piper].

The CRUIT is called crwth by the Welsh, and crowde by the English. Originally a small harp or lyre, plucked with the fingers (as in the case of the Roman fidicula), it was subsequently played with a bow, and is mentioned by an Irish poet who flourished about four hundred years before Christ. 

It is justly regarded as the progenitor of the Crotta, the German Rotte, and the Italian Rota. St. Venantius Fortunatus (the great Christian poet, A.D. 530-609) calls the Cruit a CROTTA; and we learn from Gerbert that it was an oblong-shaped instrument, with a neck and finger-board, having six strings, of which four were placed on the fingerboard and two outside it—the two open strings representing treble G, with its lower octave. 

In fact, it was a small harp, and was generally played resting on the knee, or sometimes placed on a table before the performer, after the manner of the zither.


The CLAIRSEACH was the large harp, "the festive or heroic harp of the chiefs and ladies, as also of the bards," having from 29 to 58 strings, and even 60, but as a rule 30 strings. Its normal compass was from CC (the lowest string on the violoncello) to D, in all 30 notes, that is, about four octaves. 

It was generally tuned in the scale of G, but, by alteration of one string a semitone (effected by means of the ceis or harp fastener), the key might be changed to C or D. "In those keys the diatonic scale was perfect and complete, similar to ours now in use." It may also be added that the ancient Irish played the treble with the left hand, and the bass with the right.

The so-called "Brian Boru's Harp," though not dating from the time when the hero of Clontarf flourished, has a venerable antiquity, and was almost certainly a harp of the O'Briens. 

It really dates from about the year 1220, having been made for the famous Donnchadh Cairbre O'Brien, King of Thomond, whose death is recorded on the 8th March, 1242-43. 

A detailed account of its workmanship is given by Petrie and other writers; and it is here sufficient to mention that it is furnished with 30 metallic strings, having a compass from C below the bass stave to D above the treble stave.


The timpan was a small stringed instrument, having from three to eight strings, and was played with a bow or plectrum, being also called a benn crot, or peaked harp.

The body was a small flat drum or tympanum (whence the name) with a short neck added; the strings were stretched across the flat face and along the neck, and were tuned and regulated by pins or keys and a bridge, something like the modern guitar, or banjo, but with the neck much shorter. It was played with a bow, or with both a bow and plectrum, or with the finger-nail; and the strings were probably stopped with the fingers of the left hand, like those of a violin.


The Fiddle was used in Ireland as early as the eighth century, as is quoted by O'Curry from the poem on the Fair of Carman:

"Pipes, fiddles, men of no valour, bone players and pipe players; a crowd hideous, noisy, profane, shriekers and shouters."  

Irish Dance Traditions

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