Cormac De Barra reinvents the harp as a rock and roll instrument


“I’m not a teacher per se in that my touring schedule doesn’t allow me to take on regular students, but I really love doing the weekend festivals.”

De Barra is extremely excited about the new album he has been working on with Ashley Davis, the Celtic chanteuse whose album "Down by the Sea" made our “best of” list a few years back. I ran into the pair of them recently at the Irish American Writers and Artists annual gala.

They invited the playwright John Patrick Shanley, the main award recipient that night, to suggest an Irish song for them to play in tribute to him. He suggested Linda Ronstadt’s “You’re No Good” as a joke and the pair gamely tackled it, making it the highlight of an evening full of them!

De Barra has been the point man for Davis’ Irish recording sessions, organizing musicians and studio bookings for his friend. The pair met through a connection with Cathy Jordan (Dervish) and have been friends ever since.

“I adore Ashley,” he says. “She was in the process of doing her second 'Down by the Sea.' My brother was managing Moya’s studio in Dublin and I put the two of them together and then I ended up on the album.

“It helps having an Irish harp onstage when you’re doing Celtic music. I’ve been to Kansas a ton of times, I’m collaborating with her on songs, managing from the ground in Dublin when she records there. It has become a real friendship. She knows how the Irish work and we have such fun.”

De Barra reports that Moya Brennan is doing a full-on duet with Davis, and she is getting more into her bluegrass roots from her Kansas upbringing. This shift into country and bluegrass is what makes working on the album so exciting for De Barra.

“It is so invigorating to be playing this genre,” he says. “The music shares a common ancestry. When you realize you’re in the same groove because it comes from the same place, it has this indescribable buzz to it. It’s instantly at ease and exciting with the joy of discovery at the same time.”

De Barra is looking forward to touring with Davis in the New Year but for now, his mind is focused on Christmas music.

He has just started a Christmas tour with Brennan and her band. Due to logistics, the full band wasn’t assembled in one place until the night before the first gig, but everyone locked in with one another and he reports it has been magical ever since.

“We got a standing ovation for both shows, which has just been delightful and unexpected,” De Barra says.

“Pat Mangan is playing fiddle – he has been the lead for "Riverdance" for six years. Eamonn Galldubh on uilleann pipes has played with Moya for a number of years. It’s a reunion tour for Moya with Feargal Murray is on keyboards. He has been with Moya since the very beginning. He has worked with Celtic Thunder and Celtic Woman for many years as well. Then you have Moya’s daughter Ashling Jarvis on guitar.”

Brennan’s Christmas tour dates can be seen on Her Irish Christmas disc stands out in my mind as one of the best Celtic Christmas discs ever made, and the live show I saw a few years back lived up to that hype.

If you haven’t checked out the great chemistry that she and De Barra have with one another on the albums they have made recently, check it out on