: a practice-led re-imagination of harp accompaniments to Gaelic bardic poetry

  • Lauren O'Neill

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis explores the performance of Gaelic bardic poetry and accompanying harp music in a re-imagined, contemporary traditional harping context. Offering unique insights and contributions which highlight the potential of this practice as a contemporary art form, this research explores the parameters of the connection between Gaelic bardic poetry and harp accompaniments through the medium of the harper and reciter in collaborative practice.

Chapter One introduces the elite historical performance practice of Gaelic bardic poetry and harp music, and the roles of the poet and harper throughout the bardic era.

Chapter Two provides an overview of this study’s chaotic journey within arts practice research, and the resulting practice-led methodology adopted as a means to gain insight into the functioning role of the harper within this re-imagined, contemporary performance practice. Placing myself in the role of the harper as practitioner has changed both my perception and approach to performance, whilst also drawing attention to this novel mode of practice previously unexplored within contemporary Irish traditional harp performance.

Chapters Three to Eight underline key connections between the recitation of Gaelic bardic poetry and accompanying harp music, discovered through the creation of harp accompaniments inspired by historical descriptions of this performance practice, characteristics of historical harp music and Gaelic bardic poetry itself.

Chapter Nine concludes this study, which builds upon current scholarship relating to bardic performance practice, arguing the instinctive, symbiotic collaboration between harper and reciter within the creative process of practice, and revealing parameters which guide the unique intertwining of the spoken word and accompanying harp music in contemporary re-imagination.
Date of AwardNov 2021
Original languageEnglish
SponsorsDepartment for the Economy
SupervisorNiall Comer (Supervisor), Adam Melvin (Supervisor) & Liz Doherty (Supervisor)


  • Irish traditional harp music
  • Recitation
  • Spoken word

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