Tag Archives: organology

Lyre bridge from Uamh an Ard Achaidh

AOC Archaeology have released a laser scan rendering of the lyre bridge from Uamh an Ard Achadh (High Pasture Cave) on Skye. I had already been very interested in this fragment of a musical instrument from the iron age (the original interim report suggests a date of 450 to 550 BC).

Using the rendering, and scaling from the photo in the interim report, I have made a copy or reconstruction of the bridge. As you can see from the photos, the excavated bridge is burnt and broken, with perhaps 1/4 missing from one end. It seems clear to me that the four triangular spikes along the top edge are complete – the gap between the second and third is centered over the carved arch on the underside of the bridge. I confirmed this by cutting out profile views and trying different alignments. This suggests to me that the bridge was for an instrument with three or five strings.

For my bridge I used a piece of sycamore or maple which I had to hand. I made it entirely with hand tools (knives), and finished it by scraping and then sealed the surface with beeswax. Because it is hand carved from a slightly curious piece of wood with some tight flame in the grain, and also because I was only working from the laser scan screenshots not from proper dimensioned plans, it is not an exact replica, but I tried to get it fairly close.

As you can see it works just perfectly. The lyre has six strings, so I just ran the last two together and this does not seem to be a problem. The strings are further apart at the bridge than on other lyres I have seen. The backwards slant of the bridge is curious – unless I am misunderstanding the laser scan, I wonder if it is designed for a much sharper break angle than I am using?

I’ll be playing this lyre at my cathedral concert in the ruins of St Andrews cathedral on Tuesday 5th June at 12.45pm. The music will however be medieval, not iron age!


Yesterday I was in Edinburgh for lessons. I also managed tea at the Scottish Malt Whisky Society, and a look round the newly refurbished Royal Museum.

In the new museum there is a small gallery of musical instruments, and I was delighted to see a tonkori on display. I have never seen one before, but some years ago a friend in Japan sent me a copy of Oki, Tonkori. This very interesting string music, on an instrument with only 5 or so notes, has to my ear many parallels with the indigenous European string arts such as lyre, jouhikko, kantele, and harp. I think the musical patterns are suprisingly reminiscent of the music in Robert ap Huw’s manuscript.

Harp string labels

Recently I wrote a new page on earlygaelicharp.info, about possible inscriptions on the Queen Mary harp. As part of this I reviewed my photographs of the labels glued on the harp labelling some of the strings, and then I had the idea of photoshopping and cleaning up the photos, scaling them, printing them out and glueing them onto my replica in the appropriate positions.

For those of you with a Queen Mary replica who want to join in the fun, here is the image I ended up with. Print it out at 486dpi onto good old fashioned white or off-white laid paper, cut out along the black edges, and stick on using flour and water paste. The numbers go on the right hand side* of the string band (so they are visible for a left orientation player), and they are upside-down when the harp is in playing position, so the player can read the letters. They go in order, counting from the treble: 1 [illegible], 8 [c], 9 [b], 11 [G], 15 [C], 22 [C].

Any problems or questions let me know! If you send in a photo of your harp with the labels stuck on, I will feature it here!

*Right and left hand side of the harp are described as from the viewpoint of the player, not of an onlooker