Kathleen’s harp project is family labour of love

Kathleen Loughnane with her daughter Caitriona and son Cormac who feature on her new album. It's an arrangement for harp of 11 tunes from the collector, Patrick O'Neill (1765-1832).
Kathleen Loughnane with her daughter Caitriona and son Cormac who feature on her new album. It's an arrangement for harp of 11 tunes from the collector, Patrick O'Neill (1765-1832).

Arts Week with Judy Murphy

Kathleen Loughnane was 12 years old and had just started secondary school in Limerick when her mother asked her if she’d like a harp. Tipperary-born Kathleen, who was one of 12 children, laughs as she recalls the moment.

“I’d always been used to hand-me-downs and didn’t know what a harp was.”

Her mother made the suggestion because the harp was taught at the school Kathleen was attending. The 12-year-old accepted, marking the beginning of a lifelong relationship with Ireland’s national instrument.

Music was central to Kathleen’s family but in her youth, it was a social pastime, not something you could make a living from, she says. She went to college and trained as a social worker, which was her job for years.

But times have changed and in the past few decades, the woman now regarded as ‘the matriarch’ of the harp by the next generation of players, has travelled the world with her music. She is in demand both as solo player and a member of the all-woman group, Dordán, of which she was a co-founder.

Kathleen has recorded four albums with Dordán as well as five solo albums of harp music. The Meteor Award nominee is especially regarded for her musical arrangements of old, sometimes overlooked, tunes.

Kathleen’s latest project is Patrick O’Neill’s Manuscripts, a CD and book of tunes arranged for harp, from the manuscripts of Kilkenny-born collector Patrick O’Neill (1765-1832). His vast musical records were bought by the National Library of Ireland in 2008.

Of the hundreds of tunes in O’Neill’s collection, Kathleen focused on 11 which especially resonated with her. Playing with her on the CD are her daughter Caitriona, also on harp, her son Cormac on uilleann pipes, baroque flute and whistles, and her friend, the bouzouki player Alec Finn.

Even if you never wanted to learn the tunes, the CD is glorious, offering an insight into the range of music that was popular in Kilkenny and South Tipperary in the late 18th and early 19th centuries – tunes from Scotland, England and Central Europe as well as from Ireland.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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