Irish harping joins hurling, Uilleann piping on Unesco living heritage list

Designation aims to ensure playing of instrument safeguarded for future generations

Unesco has recognised Irish harping as part of the world's "living heritage" and added it to a list that seeks to safeguard and raise awareness of culturally important activities.

It was announced following a meeting in Bogatá, Colombia on Thursday that the State's nomination of Irish harping had been approved by Unesco for a place on its representative list of "the intangible cultural heritage of humanity".

The instrument being recognised as as a key element of Ireland’s living heritage is supposed to ensure the tradition is safeguarded for future generations.

Unesco said Irish harping is “at the heart of the identity of the people of the island of Ireland”.


“The harp is Ireland’s national symbol and has been played for more than 1,000 years; its bell-like sounds and music captivate all those who hear it and are celebrated in Irish mythology, folklore and literature,” it said.

Minister for Culture and Heritage Josepha Madigan said she was delighted that Irish harping had been added to the list, adding that it holds a "central place in our cultural heritage".

"The harp is Ireland's national symbol and has been played in Ireland for more than one thousand years," she said. "This recognition by Unesco is a true tribute to the generation of harpers, who have ensured the transmission of Irish harp music for this and future generations."


She added: “The Unesco representative list is intended to promote visibility, awareness, protection and appreciation of the diversity of cultural heritage internationally. The inscription of Irish harping is a wonderful opportunity to share a cherished and central aspect of Irish cultural heritage with the international community.”

Irish Harping is Ireland’s third addition to the living heritage list. Uilleann piping was placed on it in December 2017 and hurling was added last December.

The submission to Unesco was led by Ms Madigan’s department in partnership with Cruit Éireann/Harp Ireland. The State can make one nomination to the list each year.

The harp is the official emblem of Ireland, appearing on the Presidential seal, official documents, passports and on the back of Irish euro coins. The instrument can also be seen in the branding of Irish businesses such as Guinness and Ryanair.

In response to the announcement, Aibhlín McCrann, chairwoman of Harp Ireland, said it was a “wonderful honour”.

“Due to the efforts of a passionate and committed group of harpers, the living tradition of Irish harping is now thriving, with a rich and vibrant diversity of harping taking place all over Ireland and overseas,” she said.

“We are thrilled that Irish harping has gained the recognition it so richly deserves and that the harp clearly occupies pride of place at the heart of our national identity.”

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is a reporter for The Irish Times