By the early 19th century, the harp maker John Egan began to construct a new Portable Irish Harp, in a modern construction, with pieces of wood (maple, spruce), and strung in gut. Egan, working on Dawson Street from about 1804 to 1841, invented the Portable Irish Harp as a small, easily transportable harp, capable of playing in every key. Egan’s ingenious mechanism used ivory levers or “ditals” on the pillar to move the discs on the neck, fretting the strings for key changes, making them more adaptable to modern music. In 1821 or so, Egan was granted the royal warrant by George IV, and the model became known as the Royal Portable Irish Harp.
As a harp maker, Egan made a significant contribution to the revival of the harp in Ireland. Following the Belfast Harp Festival of 1792, harp societies were formed in Belfast and Dublin to sponsor schools for harp playing, and Egan provided new harps for the schools. Egan’s handsomely decorated harps, made in blue, black or natural and all decorated with his patriotic signature of gilt shamrocks, were patronized by members of the Royal Family and by aristocratic ladies in Dublin, London and on the continent. The notable literary figures Thomas Moore and Sydney Owenson both played Egan harps. These shamrock-covered harps are important both musically and historically, reflecting a resurgence of pride in Ireland’s national identity. Egan’s small Irish harp became the model for the Celtic harp, and several of its features are still copied two hundred years later.
The green harp is decorated with strands of golden shamrocks and swirling acanthus leaves. This small harp, 89 cm. high, has a slightly bowed pillar with a rounded top, curved back, and 33 strings. In 2002, the paintwork was restored by Art Applications (South Boston), and the harp was cosmetically restrung at a low tension by Nancy Hurrell.
The harp is handsomely decorated with gilt shamrocks, scrolls, and swirling acanthus leaves on a blue background. Its elegant shape is similar to ancient Irish harps, with its bowed pillar and a high-headed extension. The overall height is 87.6 cm, and it was made for 30 strings. A leather strap or satin ribbon would have been attached to three small brass knobs, found on the lower front of the pillar and the top of the neck on both sides. Inside the harp is a stabilizing rod with a small wooden foot attached. The rod is secured by the brass screw on the back. When extended to the floor, the rod provided support while the harp was held on the lap of the player.