I was in Kilkenny the other week, for the fourteenth annual Scoil na gCláirseach – summer school of early Irish harp. During the week, I explored some of the issues I have been working on so far this year, namely the new setup for the medieval Gaelic harps, and the issues of using fingertips instead of long nails for playing the 18th century Irish harp repertory.
Speaking on 10th July, 1849, the Irish harper Patrick Byrne explained to the antiquarian John Bell, the system for tuning the early Irish harp. After starting at na comhluighe, and using a cycle of 5ths to set the middle octave of the harp, he says
Then you sound the G on the violin & B & D, and the octave above which is G which makes a common chord
I’ve been playing almost every day now for a week and a half, using the tips of my fingers, with my nails trimmed short. Here are a few preliminary observations.
As I played through some of his settings of Carolan and other baroque Irish harp music, using a copy of an 18th century Irish harp, I started thinking about the whole issue of playing the harp with long fingernails.
andere haben Feder-Spuhlen genommen, ins Wasser geweicht und breit gemacht, hernach ihnen die Form solcher Nägel einigermassen gegeben, und sie wie die silbernen mit Ringlein an den beiden ersten Fingern vest gemachet.
— [Johann Philipp Eisel], Musicus αυτοδιδακτος, oder der sich selbst informirende Musicus, Erfurt 1738