Traditionally played by men in Ireland the harp became seen as a solo instrument played by women. One male harpist is bringing balance to the musical landscape.

The symbol of Ireland, the harp was the instrument played in the great halls of Irish chieftains for centuries. The harper was an important part of the aristocratic Gaelic household. As a profession it was dominated by men, but in recent decades the majority of harpists have been women.  

Cormac De Barra is one male professional harper who it would seem could not escape his fate. Both his mother and grandmother played the harp. He took up the instrument at the age of ten, and aged fourteen he was travelling to the United States to study the harp there for the summer. 

Harp maker Colm O'Meachair has noticed an increase in male harpers in recent years. In addition to Irish harp players, he has also received orders for harps in France, Germany, Italy and Scandinavia.  

In the last couple of years there has been a rise of interest among men.

Denise Kelly is a harp teacher who is delighted to see more young men and boys taking up the harp. She credits Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann for promoting the instrument, as now,

The male harpists are coming to their own.

One young male harper Niall Murphy from County Meath started playing the harp when he was seven. 

I enjoy playing at concerts.

When harp playing was revived in Ireland in the nineteenth century it became an instrument associated with women and genteel surroundings, so much so that male harpers were few and far between. That is changing, says Cormac de Barra, and male harpers playing alongside traditional musicians are becoming more visible.

It’s changing a lot with all the young traditional harpers coming along. Out side of Ireland nobody seems to care they just think the harp is the thing. Oh yeah have a guy playing the harp. They don't remark on it.  

This report for 'Nationwide’ was broadcast on 31 January 2000. The presenter is Michael Ryan and the reporter is Karen Brady.