THE LAMONT HARP.
THE Highland Harp, known as the Clàrsach Lumanach, or Lamont Harp, belongs to the owner of the Queen Mary Harp, C. Durrant Steuart, Esq., of Dalguise, Perthshire. Both harps were sent to Edinburgh in 1805 by General Robertson of Lude, who owned them at that time, at the request of the Highland Society, and a book was published in 1807 under the patronage of the Society, entitled An Historical Enquiry respecting the Performance on the Harp in the Highlands of Scotland from the earliest times until it was discontinued about the year 1734, by John Gunn, F.A.S. E., in which they were described, and a version of the family tradition of Lude given, compiled from letters written by General Robertson, now unfortunately not forthcoming.
Although Mr. Gunn’s story of the Queen Mary Harp is colored in order to attach the gift of it to Mary Queen of Scots, that of the Lamont Harp appears to be according to the simple statement of the original narrator, and may be thus epitomised from a paper published in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 1880-81, by Mr. C. D. Bell, F.S.A.Scot.: “The family tradition of Lude alleges that for several centuries past the larger of these harps has been known as the Clàrsach Lumanach or Lamont Harp, and that it was brought from Argyllshire by a daughter of the Lamont family on her marriage with Robertson of Lude in 1464. It is said to be the older of the two. If the probably quiet place in the house of Lude be considered, and that it was likely to be valued and cared for there, also that the repairs appear to be of very old date, then the Clarsach Lumanach may have already, before 1464, been an old broken and mended instrument with a pre-traditional story we can never hope to hear.”
Above: I. Right side of the termination of the harmonic curve showing. The metal straps, the enrichment &c., II. The front of the metal enrichment.
From Burke’s Landed Gentry, “Lineage of the Robertsons of Lude,” we learn that Charles, fifth Laird of Lude, married Lilias, daughter of Sir John Lamont of Lamont, chief of that clan, and that “it was with this lady, Lilias Lamont, there came one of those very curious old harps which have been in the family for several centuries.”
Above: No. 1. Upper portion of the box, showing the termination of the raised string band.
No. 2. Lower termination of the raised string band.
No. 3. Treble end of the brass band through which the tuning-pegs pass — left side. No. 4. Do. — right side.
No. 5. Ornamentation beneath the lower termination of the brass cap or enrichment.
The drawing shows the harp as it is, and may have been for centuries, but Mr. M’Jntyre North, in his Book of the Club of True Highlanders, London, 1880, proposes, by the substitution of a longer bow or forearm, to bring this harp to the lines of the Queen Mary Harp and that of Brian Boru.*) It is sufficient here to observe that the present bow agrees in measurement with that of the Queen Mary and Brian Boru Harps, and is certainly very old. Against its originality is the fact that the Lamont Harp appears to have always had thirty-two strings, and for the three extra treble strings a longer bow ought to have been required.
*) Brian Boru, also Brian Bóruma, Brian Bórama or Brian Bóroimhe, actually Brian Bóruma Mac Cennétig (born around 940 in Béal Bórú; † 23. April 1014), was son of the king of the clan of the Dál gCais (Dalcassians) and for a short time the first and only Irish high king.
The extreme length of the Lamont Harp is 38 inches, and the extreme width 18½ inches. The sound chest, as with other ancient harps, is hollowed out of one piece of wood, but the back has been in this instrument renewed, although probably a long time ago. The sound chest is 30 inches long, 4 inches in breadth at the top and 17 at the bottom. The comb projects 15½ inches. The broken parts of the bow are held together by iron clamps.
As to the musical effect of a Gaelic or Irish harp when well played, the impression of such a performance recorded by Evelyn in his Diary is worth quoting. He says: “Came to see me my old acquaintance and the most incomparable player on the Irish harp, Mr. Clarke, after his travels. He was an excellent musitian, a discreete gentleman, borne in Devonshire (as I remember). Such musiq before or since did I never heare, that instrument being neglected for its extraordinary difficulty; but in my judgment it is far superior to the Lute itselfe, or whatever speakes with strings.” Elsewhere he speaks of a Mr. Clark (probably the same performer) as being from Northumberland, and says of the instrument, “Pity ’tis that it is not more in use; but indeede to play well takes up the whole man, as Mr. Clark has assur’d me, who, tho’ a gent of quality and parts, was yet brought up to that instrument from 5 yeares old, as I remember he told me.”
- Musical instruments, historic, rare and unique; by Alfred James Hipkins and William ill Gibb. London: A. and C. Black, ltd. 1921.
- Musical instruments by Robert Bruce Armstrong. Edinburgh: D. Douglas, 1904.