Janet Harbison

Dubliner Janet Harbison came to early prominence winning all national and a number of international harp competitions in the late 1970s. In 1980 she was the first harper to tour to America and Canada with Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann and her career took off.

While touring widely throughout Britain, Ireland and Europe over the next years, Janet also undertook degrees in Music from Trinity College Dublin (BA and MA), Cork University (MA) and in 1984, moved to Belfast having been awarded a Research Fellowship at the Institute of Irish Studies at Queen’s University Belfast.

Discovering the unique role the harp could play in the journey toward peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland, her Fellowship was followed by her appointment with the Department of Education as Curator of Music at the Ulster Folk Museum.

It was here that Janet conceived the ‘cross-community project rooted in cultural heritage’ that became the Belfast Harp Orchestra. After the first concert in 1988 that was championed by the BBC in 2 radio programmes, it was evident that the ‘orchestra’ would play a significant role in Northern Ireland’s cultural life going forward.

For the 1992 bicentenary of the Belfast Harpers’ Assembly itself, a company was organized (of which Janet was Executive Director) and a year of festivities arranged. The Belfast Harp Orchestra performed the opening concert of the World Harp Festival, Belfast with the Chieftains in May. So delighted were the Chieftains that they immediately brought the orchestra on tour to the National Concert Hall Dublin and the Royal Festival Hall London where they recorded ‘The Celtic Harp’ album together.

This album won the Grammy Award for Best Folk Music Album 1993 and the orchestra was jettisoned onto the international stage.

Discovering the unique role the harp could play in the journey toward peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland, her Fellowship was followed by her appointment with the Department of Education as Curator of Music at the Ulster Folk Museum.

It was here that Janet conceived the ‘cross-community project rooted in cultural heritage’ that became the Belfast Harp Orchestra. After the first concert in 1988 that was championed by the BBC in 2 radio programmes, it was evident that the ‘orchestra’ would play a significant role in Northern Ireland’s cultural life going forward.

To support the work of the orchestra, Janet established the Harp Foundation Ireland (Ltd) serving it as CEO for the next 8 years, managing teaching practises throughout the province and the Belfast Harps agency that provided employment for her players and funding for the orchestra.

Many awards were made in recognition of the pioneering role played not only in helping to build bridges of friendship and accommodation in Northern Ireland, but also for the employment of women and the regeneration of harping in the province.

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