Royal Portable Irish Harp by John Egan

Royal Portable Irish Harp by John Egan

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Description (Brief)

Neo-Irish style harp known as the Royal Portable Irish harp. It is non-pedal but with a sharpening mechanism. The fore pillar is square and of a modified S curve. On the inside of the pillar are 7 levers called "ditals", and each is labeled with a note of the scale. The ditals are made of ivory. The inside of the pillar can be reached through a removable wooden piece which is kept in place by metal screws.

The string arm is curved and has 32 metal string pins, 32 metal bridge pins, and 30 sharpening "fourchettes." The arm also has a brass plate that extends almost the length of the string arm. The maker's name and address, along with the British coat of arms are engraved on this brass plate that reads, "John Egan - Inventor [/] 30 Dawson St. [/] Dublin [/] Maker-by Special Appointment [/] To His Most Gracious Magesty George IVth". At the shoulder end of the string arm is a brass knob or "button" of unknown function.

The soundbox is semi-circular and more narrow at the top than the bottom. In the middle of the flat soundboard is a strip of wood (a "string holder") that has 32 string holes. There are 29 string pegs that are probably made out of ebony wood. These pegs are grooved and are the mechanisms which hold the strings in place. The back of the soundbox has 4 rectangular sound holes.

The entire harp is painted a very dark green that almost looks black on the soundboard. Gilded garlands of shamrocks are painted on 4 sides of the column, the soundboard, the top of the string arm, and the sides of the sound box. The harp has no feet but rests directly on the bottom of the soundbox.

The maker of the harp, John Egan, was instrumental in a revitalization of the Irish Harp although his version was very different from the early harps of the ancient-medieval bards and musicians. The revitalization occurred circa 1819 and the new harps were made primarily for amateurs. This particular Egan harp has "ditals" for sharpening but Egan also made one with levers or blades. The dital range was turned to E flat major to give the fullest range of possible keys in which to play. The forked or "forchette" mechanism of this harp is similar to those found on larger pedal harps.

Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
1820 - 1830
place made
Ireland: Dublin, Dublin
Physical Description
ivory (ditals material)
brass (plate material)
ebony? (string pegs material)
wood (frame material)
brass (material material)
steel (string holding pins material)
overall: 40 1/2 in x 9 in x 21 in; 102.87 cm x 22.86 cm x 53.34 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Mary E. Maxwell
See more items in
Cultural and Community Life: Musical Instruments
Music & Musical Instruments
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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