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Egan, John



  • Existence: active 1803-1839

Biographical Note

John Egan, Dublin's leading harp maker of the early nineteenth century, manufactured a variety of harps between circa 1804 and 1839. Egan produced gut-strung pedal and portable harps for aristocratic ladies and also made a wire-strung model, called the Improved Irish Harp, for Irish harp societies aiming to revive Ireland’s ancient harp traditions. Egan's most famous model was the Portable Irish Harp, whose shape was loosely based on the ancient Gaelic harps. These instruments were fitted with fretting mechanisms to facilitate changes in pitch -- ring stops or his innovative ivory ditals -- on the inner side of the forepillar. Portable Irish Harps were about three feet tall (like the famous Brian Boru harp), had soundboxes with rounded backs, and were lightweight and suitable for traveling. They were available in black, blue, or green, and were handsomely decorated with golden shamrocks. Egan's model was copied by successive generations of harp makers and was the inspiration for today's Irish or Celtic harp.

In 1821, Egan was granted the royal warrant for his harps, becoming "Harp maker to His Royal Highness George IV," and his portable model became the Royal Portable Irish Harp. George IV was known for his patronage for the arts, and several members of the Royal Family played Egan harps.


Armstrong, Robert Bruce. English and Irish Instruments. Edinburgh: Printed by T. and A. Constable, 1908.

Hurrell, Nancy. "Egan, John." In New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Hurrell, Nancy. "The Royal Portable Harp by John Egan." Historical Harp Society Journal XIII, no. 2 (Spring 2003): 19-21.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Egan harp collection


This collection contains two Portable Irish Harps by nineteenth century Irish harp maker John Egan.

Restrictions on access

Collection is open for research. Off-shelf viewing is by appointment, supervised by a staff member to ensure safe handling. The harps are too fragile to be strung at full tension, and therefore are not playable.

Dates: circa 1819-1820s