The Harp That Once Through Tara's Halls


by Thomas Moore (1779-1852)


The harp that once through Tara's halls
The soul of music shed,
Now hangs as mute on Tara's walls
As if that soul were fled.
So sleeps the pride of former days,
So glory's thrill is o'er,
And hearts that once beat high for praise,
Now feel that pulse no more!

No more to chiefs and ladies bright
The harp of Tara swells;
The chord alone that breaks at night,
Its tale of ruin tells.
Thus Freedom now so seldom wakes,
The only throb she gives
Is when some heart indignant breaks,
To show that still she lives.


Tara, of course, is the mysterious hilltop castle that was home to Irish high kings.  It actually existed somewhere in what is now County Meath from very ancient times well before the time of Saint Patrick (432) until its destruction probably in the sixth century, but in any case well before the death of High King Brian Boru on the battlefields of Clontarf (1014).  In the poem, written while Ireland was still under an unwelcome British rule, Thomas Moore lets Tara symbolize the seat of Irish government and the rule of Ireland.

The harp, the traditional musical instrument of Ireland, symbolizes the Irish people, culture and spirit.

The British arrived in Ireland in 1172 and took the island by force--an unwelcome colonial power ruling the Irish people for 750 brutal years.  Despite numerous abortive rebellions, Irish independence was not wrested from England until 1922.

Although Tara was actually demolished several centuries before the arrival of the British, Moore invites the reader to imagine a figurative Tara that still exists.  But the soul of Ireland­--the harp--is not permitted to express itself there, and so hangs mute and unused on the wall.  The pride and glory of self-rule are gone, and the only chord that sounds at night is when some brave individual asserts his or her Freedom in the face of brutal oppression.

This is the poetry of which revolution is born.

To hear an online reading of this poem, click here.

To hear an online vocal rendition of this song, click here.

To learn more about the history of the Irish Republic, click here.

To go to Dion Boucicault's song, The Wearing of the Green, click here.

To return to related writings in the General Reference Room, click here.

Copyright © 2007, M. Franks. All rights reserved.