Dramatic mountain handover strikes the right note for National Harp Day

Young harpist collects her new harp at county border to keep to Covid-19 restrictions

Due to Covid-19 travel restrictions, harp maker Kevin Harrington from Roundwood recently travelled over the mountains to the Wicklow - Dublin border to deliver a new harp to ten year old Muireann Ni Mhuirthile from Dublin. Video: Bryan O'Brien

On a stretch of invisible border where Dublin meets Wicklow, as cyclists turned their bikes around to keep within Covid-19 travel restrictions, 10-year-old Muireann Ní Mhuirthile waited to collect her harp.

The wooden instrument, hand-carved by Roundwood expert Kevin Harrington, had been several months in the making, but the pandemic had conspired to frustrate its delivery between two counties.

Then, as National Harp Day approached, just as the young musician was about to travel to Wicklow, Level 3 restrictions shut down all hope again. Almost all hope.

The harp for us, it's a symbol of <a class="search" href='javascript:window.parent.actionEventData({$contentId:"7.1213540", $action:"view", $target:"work"})' polopoly:contentid="7.1213540" polopoly:searchtag="tag_location">Ireland</a>. As a family it's a huge privilege that we have someone who wants to play it

“We were having a laugh with Kevin that we could go to the border and have a handover,” said Muireann’s mother Barbara. It began as a joke, but the joke grew legs.


Barbara’s brother, a cyclist, knew of at least 11 crossing points on the mountain roads and they settled on the Featherbeds, a heathland near the Glenasmole Valley on the Old Military Road.

Prized possession

Last Wednesday, just after 3pm, the instrument-maker handed over the prized possession – a €4,500 cherrywood carved, 34-string modern Irish harp, painstakingly shaped to perform traditional Irish music at its best.

"Kevin rang us and said we can do this," said Barbara. "The harp for us, it's a symbol of Ireland. As a family it's a huge privilege that we have someone who wants to play it.

“As we were driving away [from the rendezvous point] my daughter actually cried and no one saw that . . . she absolutely loves it.”

Inspired by a Disney cartoon, Muireann took up the harp at the age of six. Over the pandemic she has kept up with online lessons and passed her grade four exams with distinction through the Royal Irish Academy of Music.

Because of the cost of harps, her family had rented her an instrument for years until seeing Kevin’s work at a harp event in Dún Laoghaire’s Lexicon library last year.

However, as Kevin explained, when the pandemic took the country by force, his working time was disrupted and there was difficulty securing parts from as far away as France and the US in particular. What would normally take about a month turned into several.

And while there will be no National Harp Day events to play it at on Saturday, Kevin eventually got the instrument to the young musician, who plans a quiet performance with family.

“It’s actually quite emotional,” Barbara said of their dramatic pick-up. “We didn’t realise the emotion until afterwards.”

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times