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Thesis 1

Thesis Title: Meanings and Cultural Functions of the Irish Harp as Trope, Icon and Instrument: The Construction of an Irish Self-Image
Degree Type: PhD
Degree Specialism: Analysis
Supervisor(s): Prof. Kevin Barry
Thesis Status: Accepted
Date Submitted / Accepted: November 2008
Institution Submitting / Submitted To: Other
No. of Volumes (no. of pages): 340 pages
Approx. Word Count: 98,000 words
Thesis Location / Link: NUI, Galway
Related Publications: "From the Minstrel Boy to the Blameless Bard: The Play of the Harp as a Passive Trope and Icon in Moore's Irish Melodies." Proceedings of the Thomas Moore: Texts, Contexts, Hypertext International Conference. Ed. Seán Ryder, Francesca Benatti & Justin Tonra. (Forthcoming 2012).
“Charles Villiers Stanford” (900 word entry) and survey articles for “National Music – Irish Gaelic” (2,000 words) and “Folk Music – Irish Gaelic” (2,500) Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe (ERNiE), April 2011.
“Carolan, Bardic Discourses and the Irish Harping Tradition in the 18th and 19th Centuries.” Amhráin Chearbhalláin/The Poems of Carolan: Reassessments. Ed. Liam P. Ó Murchú. London: Irish Texts Society, 2007,12-29.
“Functions of the Harper Bard Trope and Icon in Constructions of Irish and Scottish Identity.” The Enclave of My Nation: Cross-currents in Irish and Scottish Studies. Ed. Shane Alcobia-Murphy and Margret Maxwell. Aberdeen: AHRC Centre for Irish and Scottish Studies, 2008. 75-92.
“From the Comerford Crown to the Repeal Cap: fusing the Irish harp symbol with eastern promise in the nineteenth century.” Visual, Material and Print Culture in Nineteenth-Century Ireland. Ed. Ciara Breathnach & Catherine Lawless. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2010, 59-72.
Persons / Composers: Cultural History of the Irish Harp & Its Contexts
Genres / Musical Instruments: Irish Harp / Semiotics /
Key Issues / Concepts: Image Studies / Cultural History
Abstract: This thesis constitutes the first comprehensive analysis of the cultural functions of the Irish harp as musical instrument, literary trope and visual icon in the construction of Irish identities. As an interdisciplinary study it answers the question: what is the relationship, at particular moments in Irish history, between the literary and iconographic representations of the Irish harp and the manufacture, performance and reception of the harp as a musical instrument? The only national emblem in the world consisting exclusively of a musical sign, the harp has existed as an Irish symbol since at least the thirteenth century. Therefore, the Irish harp is among the ten oldest national symbols in the world. However, far from being a static visual symbol, our national emblem has altered continuously through the centuries. The harp’s changing signification has been intimately involved with how we imagine ourselves as Irish people. I argue that this unsteadiness, which was a vital part of the harp’s symbolic appeal, meant that the signification of the harp had to be manipulated within various contexts through the exercise of local controls. There was a need in any particular moment to limit the volatility of the harp signifier through such controls as argument, contradiction, juxtaposition, genre collision and manipulation of context. By particularizing the various ways in which the harp has been mobilized as a political, social and cultural signifier in the construction of Irish identities this thesis expands our understanding of the vital cross-disciplinary role of the harp in cultural nationalism and challenges existing, more reductive investigations of the harp’s transformative role in Irish history. It contributes to our existing knowledge by providing a more extensive, richer, and more complex analysis of the various roles and meanings of the Irish harp than has hitherto been possible.

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