Next Tour: October 2020

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Glenveagh Music room
glenveagh harp

Drumshanbo & Keadue

carolans grave Carolan's Grave in Kilronan Cemetery

keadue harp
Amy posing with the Bogwood Harp in Keadue

Nobber & O'Carolan

harp gate

carolan statue

Trinity College Harp


Bunting Collection at Queens University Belfast

Collins Barracks, National MuseuM in Dublin
Carolan's Harp

carolan's harp



Music Music Music

westport session
William Jackson in concert

Kathy joined in a session in Donegal

john carty

Debbie & Cate play in one of our late-night harp sessions

lough allen session
Session at the Lough Allen

conor ward
Conor Ward gave us a lecture on the music of Leitrim and a few tunes in Lough Allen

Grainne did an afternoon workshop on our "free" day in Drumshanbo

eleanor shanley
Grainne & Billy played a wonderful concert in Drumshanbo

dearbhfail finnegan
Dearbhail Finnegan (above) led the Meath Harp Ensemble in the concert in Nobber.

rory dall ensemble
Rory Dall Harp Ensemble (above). Patrick Davey, Mairead Forde, Eilis Lavelle & Grainne Hambly (below)

Harp Sightings All Over
wall hanging
The Harp Tavern in Sligo

wall hanging
Kathy poses with a 17K-euro Waterford cutglass harp in Dublin


The Harpers' Escape is produced by You Gotta Have Harp Productions, 11 Country Lane, Voorhees, NJ 08043. Phone: 856-795-7637.


Our 2019 tour Group Gathered at Carolan's Statue in Nobber, his birthplace, and then walked to a Special Harp Concert

trinityharp Harp Tour of Ireland 2019 Travelog

By Kathy DeAngelo, tour director

malahide castleIt's almost getting to be a tradition that our travelers get into Dublin earlier than the start of tour to visit friends, get over jet lag, or come from other vacation destinations. The Grand Hotel is in the seaside town of Malahide, where there's plenty to do, like walk up to Malahide Castle and its park. That's where Dennis and I were headed when we stopped in the Tourist Center and ran into Brenda and Pam, they had arrived that morning and were walking the town. Later that afternoon we ran into Debbie on the main street and back at the hotel Anna and Don. Before the evening was out we'd meet up in a lounge and have a few tunes! But early to bed because we'd head out the next morning for Donegal.




From Dublin to Donegal

Long RoomDAY 1: Our first castle of the tour was Donegal Castle, after our long drive from Dublin. We'd be staying at the Mill Park Inn just outside of town and the castle restoration was amazing to see. Dennis and I had seen it when we were last in Donegal in 1979 and it was just a ruin then. Incredible work done.

highcrossThe castle was the home of the O'Donnell clan. It was built by the young chieftain Red Hugh O'Donnell about 1474. Red Hugh was at the center of the so-called Gaelic Confederacy, fighting the forces of Queen Elizabeth (the first one!). Thousands died, there was famine, the Spanish were drawn into it, but eventually the Gaelic order was defeated at Kinsale in 1601 and after the Flight of the Earls to friendlier lands Hugh O'Donnell burnt the castle to the ground rather than give it up. However it was given to Capt. Basil Brooke in 1611, who "modernized" it. Centuries later the Brooke family donated the crumbling castle it to the state, which was then British. Restoration began in the 1990s by the Office of Public Works.
Close by the castle was the ruins of Donegal Abbey, also built by the O'Donnell's and with a perfect view of the River Eske was a statue of Red Hugh O'Donnell. Our dinner was at the hotel and we had a lovely concert after dinner with William Jackson, whose family actually lived near Gweedore, where Billy still keeps the family cottage.It was a great start to the tour. No session after the concert this night as folks were still getting over jet lag.

DAY 2: We headed north in Donegal to the Glenveagh National Park with its faux castle created in the late 19th century and last owned by wealthy Philadelphian Henry McIlhenny before he gave the house and lands to the Irish state in the 1970s. Stupdendous views lakeside and then from the gardens. First stop during the house tour was the music room where we found a harp that sparked a lot of discussion. Was it, as the guide said, an 1820 Egan harp or an old Clarke harp from Syracuse NY as our New Yorkers claimed? Neither. Some digging with harp expert Nancy Hurrell later revealed that it was a Mallory harp. We must get Glenveagh to correct their inventory tags! After a lovely lunch at Glenveagh, we winded our way through Donegal. Not enough time to hit Doe Castle, as was on our itinerary, but we stopped in Dunfanaghy, on Billy Jackson's recommendation. A lovely little town with the best ice cream shop and great craft stores.

foxford millsalice's restaurant
Above: in the gardens at Glenveagh and then at the great ice cream shop in Donfanaghy

slieve liag group
The group poses for a quick pic with the cliffs of Sliabh Liag behind them. The cliffs at Sliabh Liag make the Cliffs of Moher look puny by comparison. Can you spot the harp on the face of the cliffs? Our guide said he'd be working there for 30 years and never saw that harp, until we pointed it out!

slieve liagDAY 3: Sliabh Liag It looked like it was going to rain but we hung in there and had a fabulous visit to these scenic cliffs. It was misty but there were amazing views. We even spotted a harp on the face of the cliff while looking for the man's face that our tour guide told us was there.(see if you can find it in the adjacent photo.) After our scenic shuttle ride back down the mountain we boarded the coach and headed to the nearby Rusty Mackeral for a lovely lunch.


croagh patrickEveryone got to experience first-hand the freshest seafood, coming straight from the docks at nearby Killibegs. The seafood chowder was to die for!

The day was still young so we headed further west to Glencolumcille for our 2pm dance class at the Donegal Fiddle Summer School. What a treat! We had live fiddle music from Jimmy and Peter Campbell and dance instruction from Insert Name Here that got everbody moving. It was fun. But there was still more to do in Glencolmcille. After the dance class we went over and to the Folk Village and got a tour, lots of great photos and a chance to get stuff in their wonderful store.

Jimmy & Peter Campbellmarianne dancing

harvest time jig

Glencolmcille Folk Village

folk village room

folk village cottage






Going to Drumshanbo

DAY 4: It wasn't on the itinerary, but since we had to go that way anyway, Seamus brought us to Drumcliff in Sligo to see the grave of Ireland's noted poet William Butler Yeats. Lovely view from there of Benbulben and then we were off for ABC, as Seamus called it, Another Bloody Castle! This time it was a windy way along Lough Gill to Parke's Castle.

parkes castle

parkes castle towerWe had a terrific tourguide at Parke's who brought the restored 17th century plantation castle to life with her stories about the history and local life and about how the castle was actually restored. The imposing castle had a commanding view of the lovely Lough Gill and one of its unusual features down by the lake was an ancient sweathouse, an "amenity" only popular in the northwest of Ireland. When the tourguide said it wasn't very big inside, Jody took that as a personal challenge and went in! We headed back to Sligo for lunch and some of us headed to the Harp Tavern for a pint and some soup and bread and more than enough harps decorating the walls to fill our harpsighting quota for the day!

jody in the sweathouseharp tavern


O'Carolan & Keadue

After lunch we headed to Leitrim and Drumshanbo, with our tour's annual stop at Kilronan Cemetery in Ballyfarnon, outside Keadue to pay our respects at the grave of Turlough O'Carolan. Keadue was hosting the Carolan Festival for the week and some of us were intending to go to the harp competitions the next morning. The bogwood harp sculpture greeted us on getting to Keadue. They take O'Carolan very seriously in Keadue, and we arrived at the tail-end of their O'Carolan festival. Some of us attended the harp competitions the next day.

It's only 10 minutes from Keadue to the Lough Allen Spa & Resort, which would be our home for 2 nights. We've been there on every tour. It's nestled at the southern point of Lough Allen with stunning views of Sliabh an Iarainn and the Arigna mountains. On checking-in, some wasted no time in scheduling spa appointments for the following "day off" from driving or going to the pool! We had another fabulous dinner that night and unbeknownst to her, Amy's family had called the hotel to order a birthday cake, which came out with dessert! Our after-dinner activity was a lecture from local music historian Conor Ward on the fiddle music and collections from Leitrim. It was fascinating! He gave us great handouts too.

DAY 5: A dozen of us went out to O'Carolan Harp Festival harp competition on Saturday morning and were just amazed at the quality of the playing from all the youngers. Others did the spa or explored further afield along the roads and byways around Drumshanbo. Most of the harpers took the harp workshops in afternoon with Billy Jackson and Grainne Hambly, thanks to the harps they brought for us to play!  It was a full day for everybody but it wasn't over! There was a concert with Grainne and Billy after dinner and a lively session followed. There weren't any shy players in this group!alex&don

more sessions


nanas kitchenOn the Carolan Trail: Nobber

DAY 6: We set out Sunday morning for Carolan's birthplace, Nobber, in County Meath through the land of lakes that is Leitrim. Conor Ward had joked in his lecture that Leitrim had so much water that they sold land by the bucket! Dearbhail Finnegan greeted us as our coach pulled up to the Carolan park in Nobber. We took a group photo (shown at the top of this page) with the Bard. The park is surround by a musical fence and harp gate. What's tune on the fence? We walked down to Nana's Kitchen and sat down to a hearty lunch of soup, sandwiches, and bottomless cups of tea. We had "free" hour after lunch to explore the tiny village, rich in history going back to pre-Christian times. St. John's Old Cemetery next to the church-turned-arts center contained many Carolan-family graves.

meath ensembleWhat a sight when we walked into the George Eogan Heritage & Community Centre, formerly St. John's Church! A whole wall full of harps. Dearbhfail and her Meath Harp Ensemble treated us to a wonderful concert, including, naturally, many tunes by Turlough O'Carolan.

Following the concert we boarded the coach and set off for Belfast and we arrived at the Europa Hotel in the bustling city center before dinner. We had a sumptuous dinner at the hotel, followed by a small session.


Belfast & the Bunting Collection

DAY 7: Edward Bunting was just 19 when he was hired to write down the music of the old harpers at the 1792 Belfast Harp Assembly. He saved the ancient harp music of Ireland and the importance of his work cannot be underestimated. He spent the rest of his life collecting the music and published 3 volumes, which were widely pirated by others, including Thomas Moore. So we headed to Queen's University to the Special Collections reading room for an exclusive exhibition of Bunting's original manuscripts, notebooks and other related works mounted just for our group! Curator Louisa Costelloe and our own Grainne Hambly brought it all to life for us. Most of us admitted to being complete harp nerds and we were in seventh heaven.
Afterwards we could wander the adjacent Royal Botanical Gardens or the college campus until it was their turn.

Queens has been digitizing the Collection. There is so much that has not been published yet. If you're interested in going through the manuscripts of Bunting and Patrick Lynch, the song collector Bunting hired, click here to access the online collection.







You can't do a tour in Belfast and not talk about the elephant in room: The Troubles and stormy social and political turmoil and erupted from the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland in late 60s. Our tourguide Seamus gave us the historical background on The Troubles while driving the coach through the Shankill and Falls Roads with their "Peace" walls. It was eye-opening for many on the tour who were unfamiliar with the real impact on real people, outside of headlines. On getting back to the hotel, everyone had the afternoon off to explore Belfast on their own until we met up again at 4pm at the historic Linen Hall Library. Belfast City Hall was 3 blocks from the hotel and proved to be a popular destination. The shopping district was also popular.

bunting concert finalerobert burnsThe Linen Hall Library, the oldest library in Belfast, not only had its own small collection of Bunting memorabilia, but it has the biggest collection of Robert Burns material outside of Scotland. And there was a McFall harp sitting right in the main lobby! Deborah Douglas gave us an excellent tour and had great anecdotes and stories: we couldn't help but notice the wonderful stained glass windows so she noted how they were removed during The Troubles and put in storage, lest they be damaged by bomb blasts. That tied right into Seamus' coach narrative earlier in the day. We ended the tour to take a quick dinner break so that we could come back to the Library for our exclusive daily dose of music: a special concert called Burns, Bunting & Belfast with Patrick Davey and Grainne Hambly and some special guests.



giants causewayGiants Causeway


DAY 8: Tuesday was an outdoors "comfy shoes" kind of day as we left Belfast and drove up the Antrim Coast to the World Heritage site, Giants Causeway, created 60 million years ago by volcanic activity. The rock formation is the stuff of Irish legend. The weather mostly cooperated and when the clouds did part you could see Donegal off to the west and the coast of Scotland to the east, just 12 miles away. Stunning. While many folks walked from the Visitor Centre down the stones, Dennis and I opted to take the little shuttle and save our legs for the Rope Bridge trek.

spanish pointcarrick cliff pathIt turned into quite the warm day by the time we arrived at Carrick-a-Rede. Those who elected to do the hike along the cliff path to the rope bridge were dropped off and the coach set off with the rest who opted to go to the nearby Bushmill's Distillery for a more relaxed afternoon whiskey-tasting. The rocky path along the cliff had stunning scenic views and the half-mile walk to the rope bridge seemed a lot longer to me! We adventured across the 66 ft span which hangs 98 ft over the rocks and water below, connecting to the small island. It looked a lot longer from the end point than it was once I was on it. I walked slowly across, trying not to bounce the bridge at all, though the folks in front of me certainly moved a lot more quickly! I wasn't one to stop mid-bridge to snap photos either. We could have been eye-to-eye with the gulls flying around us.

Titanic Museum

DAY 9: Our final morning in Belfast was a trip to the Titanic Museum, on the site of the Harland & Wolf shipyard where the famous ship was built and launched. It's a startling structure and meant to represent an iceberg (we all know how that ended for the Titanic!), as tall as the ship was without its stacks. The exhibits were excellent and thoroughly absorbing and it was impossible to see it all in the time we had.

The first few levels focused on the shipbuilding process itself. Some of those jobs were unbelievably grueling and they didn't sugar-coat the toll on the workers. There were plenty of oohs and aahs on the floor with the re-creations of some of the cabins, from first class down to third class,which cost a whole 6 pounds sterling for the journey. Amazing fact I learned: there were no laundry facilities on board so the ship had to carry all the linens necessary for the journey, which included more than 45,000 napkins, tablecloths and bedsheets.

After having lunch in the museum cafe, we boarded the coach and headed to Dublin for our last 2 nights in Ireland. It wasn't a long trip and Seamus gave us a brief coach tour of Dublin sights en route to the Aishling Hotel on the quay on the River Liffey, just across from the Guinness brewery.


on the liffey

Back in Dublin!

epic museumEPIC Museum & the Carolan Harp!

Our first tour stop was at Trinity College in Dublin to see the famed Book of Kells and our first historic harp of the tour, the Trinity College Harp, aka the Brian Boru Harp, which is housed in the gorgeous Long Room, one of the world's most beautiful libraries.The harp was carved from a single block of willow and became the famous Guinness logo in 1862, and subsequently, the national emblem of the newly-declared Irish Free State in 1922. By happenstance there was one of 12 remaining printings of the 1916 Rising's Proclamation in a case as we entered the Long Room, and for many on the tour it was the first of many upcoming lessons in Irish history. The exit from the Long Room drops you into the Gift Shop, where I had to caution everyone not to spend all their money in the very first hour of the tour!

DAY 10: The last day of the tour. It was an epic day at the EPIC Museum, dedicated to the Irish diaspora and their impact on the world. What a fantastic museum--recently voted one of the top 10 museums in Europe. There was so much depth to this fun museum that we could easily have spent the day there (next year!). It's a converted factory down in the Docklands section of Dublin, not far from the Samuel Beckett bridge, and just down the street from the Jeannie Johnston, the famine museum/ship. Very interactive and fun exhibits. I felt like I was in an Irish Tardis--walking through Irish history; what it was like in Ireland throughout history and what made the people emigrate throughout the world.

collins barracksFolks had the rest of the afternoon off to explore the city on their own. Seamus took the long route back to the Aishling, dropping folks off at various interesting sightseeing points. Some places visited: Guinness Storehouse, St. Patrick's Cathedral (no, it's not a Catholic church!), Trinity College, Molly Malone statue and shopping!

The Historic Harps:
We had a last-minute addition to the tour that was put on our agenda right before the Somerset Folk Harp Festival. We could take 20 people on an exclusive visit the historic harps of Ireland, locked away in storage at the National Museum, Collins Barracks, which was just one block away from our hotel! We met up at Barracks and split into 2 groups: one to go to the storage area, the other to visit the 18th century music room in the museum, which included an Egan harp. Then we would switch. What an incredible experience. It was a bit of a walk to the storage building but worth it. Once inside, the vault-like shelf unit was opened to reveal all the harps on the bottom shelf, including O'Carolan's harp and his chair! All of these harps had been taken out of public viewing decades ago and put into this climate-controlled room. Priceless relics of historic harps: the Sirr or O'Neill harp (c. 1700), the Kildare harp (c. 1672), the Mullaghmore harp (c. 1700), the Cloyne harp fragments (c. 1621) and the Cloyne harp reconstruction, the Hollybrook harp (c 1720) and O'Carolan's harp (c.1700) and chair from the MacDermott Roe house.

Following this exciting viewing, we all gathered in the entrance lobby of the Barracks, where Fiachra O'Gaoithin played O'Carolan tunes on a Carolan harp-recreation by Tony Taheny (he's the one who actually got us into the museum).

Below: Carolan's Harp & his Chair were pulled off the shelf for us in the storage room at the Collins Barracks at the National Museum. The other historic harps, long out of public view, were also there for us to photograph.

carolan's harp & chair. historic harps

Below: The 18th century Music Room at the museum featured an Egan harp and a glass harmonica (on the left). Fiachra regaled us with some Carolan tunes in the lobby. music room




updated 9/13/19