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Finding Minnesota: The Gaelic Harp Renaissance

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(credit: CBS) Bill Hudson
Bill Hudson has been with WCCO-TV since 1989. The native of Elk Rive...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The harp is an instrument we can all identify with but one we seldom get to see.

The traditional Gaelic harp dates back nearly 1,000 years. And for the people of Ireland and Scotland, those who could play one were revered by kings and chiefs. Indeed, if you look at the Guinness logo today, you’ll find not a shamrock, but a harp.

The Clarsach (CLAIR-sack), or Irish harp, is enjoying a bit of a renaissance. And a Minneapolis man is doing his part. Not only does he build the instruments, but he’s recognized as one of the finest performers around.

His name is Chad MacAnally.

“The real symbol of Ireland for the majority of its history was the harp,” he said.

In the living room of this Minneapolis home, a steel-stringed Irish harp of resonates with joy. McAnally is deeply rooted in the Gaelic tradition.

“My grandparents…were kind of an influence on that,” he said.

When he was only 15, McAnally decided to pursue his Irish upbringing. So with a single lesson — and a ton of practice — MacAnally taught himself how to play.

However, he had no money to buy a harp. But he went to work and built one.

His love of playing stemmed from a fascination with Irish history.

“The history is part of it, ‘cause this was a big, huge part of Irish history,” he said.

And it didn’t stop there. In his basement workshop, McAnally turned out more than 40 Irish harps – each one beautifully carved and crafted.

After 27 of crafting and playing, McAnally is now fueling the harp’s renaissance, while helping others to play.

“The sound of the instrument…kind of takes you back. It doesn’t really sound like anything else,” McAnally said.

MacAnally teaches Irish harp at the Center for Irish Music in St. Paul. He’ll be playing at the annual Minnesota Irish Music Weekend this June.

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