Irish Harp Images from Robert Bruce Armstrong, 1904


Although the Irish harp has been depicted in various forms and media since the Middle Ages, the greatest advance in the iconography of the instrument was made in 1904 with the publication in Edinburgh of Robert Bruce Armstrong’s Musical Instruments. Part 1: The Irish and the Highland Harps. This was the first of two volumes he wrote on historic harps and other instruments – Irish, Scottish and English – the second being English and Irish Instruments (Edinburgh 1908).

The 1904 volume is notable for Armstrong’s own meticulous drawings (marked RBA) and for contemporary photographs (some by Armstrong) of the most important Irish and Scottish harps then known to him, as well as for his measured scholarly consideration of the history and nature of the two related harp traditions. A selection of his Irish images is reproduced here.

Robert Bruce Armstrong (died c. 1914) was a historian and archaeologist, artist and musician, who was born in Dublin of Ulster and Scottish parentage. Living in Edinburgh, he was a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and a life-member of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland. He bequeathed unsold copies of his musical works to the Royal Irish Academy for its benefit.

The 1904 volume was published in a limited edition of 180 copies, which are now rare. It was republished in facsimile in 1969, with an introduction by Seóirse Bodley, in Shannon etc. by the Irish University Press and in New York by Praeger Publications. The full text of the volume is available online in the Internet Archive at

With thanks to Keith Sanger.

NC, 1 August 2009

Irish Harp Images from Robert Bruce Armstrong, 1904