The Jews Harp

Artist(s) : Daniel Maclise (Draughtsman), Henry Richard Cook (Engraver)

Portrait of an rather well dressed country girl, playing a Jew’s harp, with another attached to her dress. She is wearing a finely striped low-cut, waisted jacket and beneath it a very full dress or skirt. Both have a slight sheen, suggesting silk or very fine cotton. Her soft wide-brimmed bonnet is gathered by a ribbon at the crown. She is seated in front of a masonry arch, beside a rock pool from which water is pouring into a large pitcher.

Inscribed in Image

  • Signature – D. Mc. Clise A.R.A. / H. Cook. / Printed by Alfred Adlard.
  • Caption outside of boundaries of image – The Jews Harp.

Image Details

Genre Portrait
Technique Stipple engravings
Subject(s) Manners and customs, Rural life
Geographical Location
  • Luggala or Fancy Mountain - Mountain - Approximate location of the scene.
  • Wicklow - County
  • Leinster - Province
Keywords(s) Folklore, Musical instruments, Peasants, People, Women
Colour Monochrome
Dimensions 10.1 cm x 12.6 cm
Published / created 1837

Bibliographical Details

Travel Account Ireland Picturesque and Romantic
Print or manuscript Print
Location of image in copy opp. p. 63
Source copy National Library of Ireland Ir 9141 r 15
Alternative source

This is a link to a digital copy hosted by an external website.
Rights Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland

Related text from travel account

It was almost dark before I reached the Roundwood road; and this was in part the fault of a harp whose plaintive tones allured me into a cottage. In the annexed engraving the reader will see both harp and harper, the latter a young peasant girl, and the former an instrument composed of iron, with a steel tongue, and about two inches long, by an inch and a half at the greatest breadth. This may be said to be now the only musical instrument of the Irish peasant, and it exemplifies in a striking manner the degradation of his country. As a contrast to the above brief description of // the modern instrument (vulgo, a Jew's Harp), I am tempted to extract from the Collectanea de Rebus Hibernicis, an account of the famous harp of Brian Boriomh, or as the name is now usually written, Brian Boro. "This harp is thirty-two inches high, and of extraordinary good workmanship. The sounding-board is of oak, the arms of red sally: the extremity of the uppermost arm in front is capped with silver, extremely well wrought and chiselled. It contains a large crystal set in silver, and under it was another stone now lost. The buttons or ornamental knobs at the sides of that arm are of silver. On the front arm are the arms of the O'Brian family chased in silver; viz. the Bloody Hand, supported by Lions. On the sides of the front arm, within two circles, are two Irish wolf dogs cut in the wood. The holes of the sounding-boards, where the strings entered, are neatly ornamented with scutcheons of brass carved and gilt: the larger sounding-holes were ornamented probably with silver, as they have been the object of theft. This harp has twenty-eight keys, and as many string-holes, consequently there was the same number of strings. The foot-piece, or rest, is broken off, and the parts to which it was joined are very rotten." The story concerning this harp — with the authenticity of which I have nothing to do — is, that it was laid at the feet of the Pope by Donogh, // the chief King of Ireland, who went to Rome in the year 1064, for the remission of his sins. In the reign of Henry VIII, the Pope sent it to the King, but kept the golden crown which had accompanied it, and Henry, caring no more than the holy father for a harp, gave it away to the Marquis of Clanricarde; from whom it passed into various other hands, landing at last in Trinity College Museum. If the harp of Ireland has dwindled into a Jew's harp, it is no wonder that the Irish minstrel should be represented in these latter days by a blind fiddler, groping his way to fair and pattern, and receiving payment for his music as he passes along in potatoes. The time is past when the Milesian princes strove for the possession of a bard, and could only accommodate the friendly contest by casting lots Before the Christian era, if we are to believe the Irish historians, in their report of the sumptuary laws, the bards must have ranked highest of subjects, as they were permitted to wear six colours, while the nobility were limited to five. In the sixth century, we know with more certainty, that they formed an order almost as sacred as that of the Brahmins, and that they went through a certain routine of education in appointed colleges. Their dress at this period, according to Walker, was very striking. Their truise, striped in several colours, were of weft, covering thighs, legs, and feet, and fitted almost as close as the skin. Over this descended to the // mid-thigh, a loose frock of plaided stuff, or yellow linen, ornamented with needlework, and drawn in, and fastened at the waist by a girdle. Sometimes the sleeves of this garment were long, and some times short, displaying the naked arms. It was cut round the bosom, so as to show the upper part of the shoulders and throat. A long, fringed cloak descended over all to the ancles, with its richly ornamented hood hanging behind. The beard was uncut, and the hair, escaping from the barrad, or conical cap (whence some writers deduce the word bard), fell in masses upon the shoulders. Imagine a figure like this gliding, as I am now, over the dusky hills of Wicklow, with a harp, resembling in form that of Brian Boro, slung upon his shoulder! [pp. 63-66]
The Jews Harp