Remembering Portadown

Reminiscence of Northern Ireland, July, 2001

Morgantown, WV, July 5, 2001.
About 3 months ago, in early April, I visited Portadown, County Armagh, Northern Ireland. I arrived from Belfast in the evening, on my journey as a harper for harmony. Consulting a local friend, I planned what I would do the next morning.

I arose early, as planned, and walked the Garvaghy Road from bottom to top. I was surprised to find it a wide thorofare with residential neighborhoods set quite far back. At the top, I found the Drumcree Road. It was not well marked, but was unmistakeable as it leads out into the nearby countryside where stands the Drumcree Chapel. What a beautiful walk it was, in the fresh early morning, after a rain. At Drumcree I was surprised to find no real village just a handful of houses. I sat on the curb outside the chapel gate, playing my harp for about 10 or 15 minutes.

Presently, a man came out of a yellow house across the road. It was Trevor, the caretaker, who invited me to see the chapel. I accepted his offer, and he returned to his house to fetch a very large key. We then entered the charming cut stone structure, not large or very grand but with a nice silence within. With Trevor's permission I played my harp for a few minutes in the chapel: Be Thou My Vision, Simple Gifts, and De Colores. When I asked him if he recognized the tunes, he said "the last one sounded Mexican," which of course was correct. As I left, I signed the visitor's register and wrote "harping for harmony." Trevor directed me to the home of the pastor, across the dale. I found the parsonage, beyond a wrought iron arch, across a bright, dewy yard dotted that morning with yellow daffodils and purple crocus. It was a bit past 8 AM, and I exchanged a brief "good morning" with the pastor, John Peckering.

A light rain began to fall as I walked back toward the town. When I reached the corner where stands Saint John the Baptist Church, people were beginning to gather for 9 AM Mass. Since it was now raining harder, I sought shelter within. It is a grand and beautiful modern building, a very pleasant place of refuge from the rain. After Mass, I went to speak with the priest. Of course, I was carrying my little harp, as always, and this caught his attention. I told him I was looking for other harpers, and he sent me, with an escort, to the adjacent primary school in search of Aileen McKeever.

Aileen was teaching a first grade class in Irish language. But the priest was wrong: she is not a harper but a fiddler. In the Irish language, she introduced me to the children - and they understood her and replied! I played a short program ("music from many lands") and then the children sang for me. As I left, I was able to say "thank you" in Irish, which sounds something like "GUR a my AGad."

Aileen sent me on to another teacher, who was the harper that the priest had in mind. Helene (I think it was Murtagh) was in charge of a pre-school group of about 25. The children sat happily on little chairs while I delivered my short program. Then, as they filed out, I held the harp above them and each child reached up to touch the strings. What a charming moment it was for me, to see the bright little faces looking up at me through the strings of my harp!

Now, months later, I recall the beauty of Portadown, and the warmth of the people I met. My visit there was a step in a personal journey, as a harper for harmony, toward a vision of peace on earth. As told in the bible story, the music of David's harp calmed the anger of Saul. This is the vision that inspired the mission of Harping for Harmony Foundation: to promote harmony and community, locally and globally, through harp music.

As harpers for harmony, our guiding vision is peace in Portadown, in all of Ireland, and everywhere.