About us




How we began…

The first Edinburgh Harp Festival in 1982 was the brainchild of John Hoare and Mike Stevens of Pilgrim Harps. They planned it to coincide with Edinburgh’s International Folk Festival, sharing premises with them in Teviot House, where there were two workshops, a Harpmakers’ Exhibition and a class for beginners. There was one concert, sold out well in advance, in Bedlam Theatre: “An Evening with the Celtic Harp”. The performers, from Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales were Billy Jackson, Tony Cuffe and John Martin (clarsach, guitar and fiddle)Savourna Stevenson and Sean O’Rourke (clarsach and flute), Dafydd and Gwyndaf Roberts (triple harp and clarsach) and Bonnie Shaljean (wire and gut strung harps).

Encouraged by this success, Pilgrim organised a second Festival the following year, this time with financial support from the Scottish Arts Council. The programme expanded to include two concerts featuring pedal harp and Paraguayan harp with performers from USA as well as England and Ireland. Scottish music was firmly at its centre in the hands of Alison Kinnaird, Anne Macdearmid, Rhona MacKay and Savourna Stevenson.

How we continued…

At this stage, Pilgrim Harps suggested that the Edinburgh Branch of The Clarsach Society take over the organisation and development of the Harp Festival, which it did – at first with great caution. Thanks to guidance and advice from Pilgrim Harps and help from the Scottish Arts Council, the Festival steadily grew and flourished, each year adding to its numbers and reputation.

The Edinburgh Branch volunteers, having worked tirelessly to make the Festival a great success, eventually handed over responsibility to the Executive Council of The Clarsach Society.

In the ensuing years, performers of such stature as Alfredo Ortiz, Deborah Henson-Conant, Kim Robertson, Edward Witsenburg, Park Stickney and many others from the international harp community have joined musicians from all the Celtic nations as well as our own expanding group of fine Scottish performers in our wide range of concerts, workshops and classes. In 2001 we officially became the Edinburgh International Harp Festival.

By then we had outgrown Teviot Union and the much-loved Pleasance complex, moving in 2001 to our present venue at Merchiston Castle School which provides us with concert halls, classrooms, comfortable accommodation, beautiful grounds and – free parking!

And now…

We hope you will enjoy this year’s programme, put together by the Festival Team. As in the early days we are still all volunteers, although now we are fortunate to have the help of  two professional administrators. To keep the Festival moving on and growing it is vital to have new and enthusiastic members join the Team.

For more information or to volunteer please contact Catriona Smith and Eleanor Thom at office@harpfestival.co.uk