Tag Archives: lettering

Downhill harp poem

Two years ago to the week, I had my HHSI Student Downhill harp here in preparation for using it for a concert – my Carolan, Connellan and Lyons programme which I played outside in the Botanic Garden. While the harp was here I carved the lettering on the forepillar, and gilded the carved letters.

This week the harp is again at my house, as I am going to use it for my Lament for the Union concert next week. And so how could I resist continuing my very protracted programme of decorating the instrument?

As well as some subtle painted highlights, today I carved the lettering for the poem on the soundbox. I traced my photograph of Cormick O’Kelly’s original 18th century poem, but I changed the lettering to be relevant to me and to this particular instrument. I like the idea of changing the poem – like how a modern harpsichord maker puts a replica Ruckers or Blanchard rose in the soundboard of their replica harpsichord, but replaces the old master’s initials with their own.

I was originally planning to gild this lettering but now that it is finished, because the letters are significantly smaller than the gilded forepillar ones, and because there are so many more of them, I decided I liked them natural wood. The poem is quite hard to read with all the ligatures and the crowded capital letters with few word spaces. I think it gives a subtle lift to the whole instrument.

I love it when ancient things have inscriptions on them, it is a kind of literature, and it is also a kind of direct communiaction between the thing and ourselves, more direct than we usually get with archaeological objects where the comminication has to be inferred or reconstructed. I am very pleased to have captured a little of that atmosphere and ambience on my harp now, even though it is not actually an ancient harp or even an ancient text – nonetheless it is like the harp is speaking directly to us.

I was also struck by the final 2 words of the poem: “call me”, like the monster in The Forest.

Gilding

I have long admired the inscription on the front of the Downhill harp: CODEVLIN. I assume C. O’Devlin was the person who originally commissioned the instrument from the maker, Cormac O’Kelly, in 1702.

I think it is a great idea for a harper to have their name or coat of arms displayed proudly on the outside of the forepillar of their harp. Other examples I can think of are the coats of arms and initials of Sir John Fitzedmond Fitzgerald on the Cloyne harp, of Robert FitzGerald on the Kildare harp, and the arms of William Archdeacon on the harp in his portrait. There is also Richard Stavan, I think, named on Charles Byrne’s harp in his portrait. Other old instruments announce their owner’s name alongside their maker’s, such as Rev. Charles Bunworth on the Bunworth harp, and of course the graduates of the 19th century harp society schools had their name written on their presentation instruments, either on a brass plate or in gilt lettering like on Paul Smith’s, now in Collins Barracks.

But the Downhill harp is perhaps the boldest, with the name inscribed in big display capitals, slightly wobbly but in very classical style, right on the front where it is most visible.

I have also long been thinking about how plain my Student Downhill harp looks, when I use it occasionally for concerts or events. David Kortier has a very clean aesthetic, and his choice of timbers for their visual and acoustic beauty is excellent, but I have more of an antique taste and love decorated and carved things. I have in the past considered painting the whole thing blue or some other such plan, but I can’t bring myself to cover the subtle curl in the timber, which I am sure Kortier selected for me especially.

So I decided instead that a homage to C O’Devlin was the best way forward. I looked at the elegant ligatures on Cormac O’Kelly’s lettering on the side of the Downhill harp, and I secretly regretted that my name does not have an N in it to reverse. I laid out what I thought was a pleasing design. After a careful trial piece in an offcut of the same wood that my harp was made from (thoughtfully provided by Kortier when the harp was new), I carved the lettering into the forepillar. After sealing the cut edges with shellac varnish, size was carefully applied, followed by loose gold leaf. This is the first time I have ever tried gilding, or carved lettering, and I am very pleased with the result.

First public outing tomorrow at my garden concert. I am nervously watching the weather forecast…