Nestled above the musical village of Naul, Sean Smyth pours his time, his talent and his soul into each and every Irish harp he makes.
Smyth selects and sources wood for these Irish harps from around the world for its beauty and its strength. It takes different grains and flexibility for the different parts of each harp, which is made to order specifically for each harpist. Do they want a carved solid soundbox or a hollow one? What shape fits them best? How old are they? How tall are they? How serious about playing are they?
“I can’t cut down on the quality,” Smyth tells me. “So I like to say I sell harps starters can play. But I don’t sell a starter harp.”
He goes on to explain that those just starting out on a harp often go for a less expensive one. And while many are available built in bulk, every harp he builds is of the same time-consuming quality. The lamination of layers for strength, the rule of always oiling a harp for the beauty of its natural wood instead of staining it, and the fact that he tunes every one of them, 50 times before they leave his shop, it is all part of his quality.
“Most of this is done by hand,” he tells me. “Of course, some of the planning and big work is done with saws and sanders, but most of this is done by hand.”
He started out as a cabinet maker and a master woodworker and still teaches those skills as a way of supporting his harp habit. But he’s happiest among his tools and in his workshop called Holly Tree Cottage, making harps to order one at a time, just above the musical village of Naul, in North County Dublin.
Hear more about his journey from woodworking to building Irish harps in this edition of Erin’s Isle.
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