The Invention of the Irish Harp – A Fishy story

In the year 592 the chief poet of Ireland, Dalian Forgaill, died. By unanimous consent of the ollamhs and professors of Poetry, his mantle was conferred on the young poet Seanchun.Tradition dictated that the new chief poet should confer the honour of his first visit, with his retinue of ollamhs,  to a King he admired and respected. That King was Guaire the Hospitable, king of Connacht.

During that visit, King Guaire invited his brother, Marbhan, a reclusive holy man to help with his demanding guests. Marban had retired from court to pray and meditate in Glenn Dallun. He related to  the guests, who offered to play the Cruit (Harp) for him how the Cruit was invented. His story was as follows:

‘There once lived a couple [a man and his wife] , Cuil the son of Midhuel was the man, and Canoclach Mhor was his wife. And the wife conceived a hatred to him, and she was [always] flying from him through woods and wildernesses ; and he continued to follow her constantly.

‘And one day that the woman came to the sea shore of Camas, and was walking over the strand, she met a skeleton of a whale on the strand, and she heard the sounds of the wind passing through the sinews of the whale on the strand ; and she fell asleep from the sounds. And her husband came after her [and found her asleep] ; and he perceived that it was from the soundsthe sleep fell upon her. 

‘And he then went forward into the wood, and made the form of the Cruit; and he put strings from the sinews of the whale into it ; and that was the first Cruit that was ever made.’

Castledermot High Cross

19th Century High Cross at Castledermot, Kildare, Ireland. On the left hand side is a depiction of David playing the Harp or Cruit. The first mention of a harp in Irish Mythology – History is in the history of the Tuatha De Danaan (1800 BC)at the 2nd battle of Magh Tuireadh.