Jerpoint Abbey Harp Key

side view of the Jerpoint stone

Side view of the Jerpoint stone in full
(Photo by Keith Sanger, © Please click on image to see larger version

The Memorial Slab
to a Harper and His Wife
from Jerpoint, Co. Kilkenny

The object held in the near figure’s right hand has been suggested to be the tuning key, (see close up image, below left). The effigies originally lay in situ on a tomb chest under the north arch of the crossing but were then removed to a wall in the Abbey Museum. It was then moved again to a new visitor centre, where it has been returned to a horizontal position.

According to J Hunt,[1] the harper is one of only two civilian effigies of the sixteenth century remaining in Ireland and the harper and his wife both exhibit styles of dress which had been expressively forbidden by an Act of Henry VIII in 1536/7.

photo of the Jerpoint key closeup

Close–up photograph of the Jerpoint harp key
(Photo by Keith Sanger, © Please click on image to see larger version

Photograph of the complete tomb

Photograph of the complete tomb as it now remains
(Photo by Keith Sanger,

The slabs which are thought to be the work of Rory O’Tunney and date to the early part of the 16th century are badly damaged and disfigured with modern cement. The picture used by R. B. Armstrong in his work The Irish and Highland Harps, between pages 24 and 25 by comparison shows how much deterioration has occurred over just the last century.

On the sinister side of the slab are the remains of an inscription the legible part having been read as:


which has been taken to read ‘Here lies William O’Ho[ula]han’.[2]

The harpers presence at Jerpoint Abbey along with such a fairly elaborate and expensive memorial suggests that the harper had been attached to the house of the Butler Earls of Ormond.[3]

photo of the Jerpoint stone

Photo of the Jerpoint stone in full
(Photo ©2011 by Michael Billinge, used by permission.) Please click on image to see larger version

photo from R.B. Armstrong Return to above text

The picture used by R.B. Armstrong in his work The Irish and Highland Harps
Please click on image to see larger version.

Please follow this link to return to the McIntyre–North wrest or harp key page.

[1] Hunt, J, Irish Medieval Figure Sculpture, (1974), 86, 94, 96, 143, 144, 175—176, and plate 181.

[2] Hunt, page 175, quotes the Rev Canon Carrigan as the source of the inscription and its suggested translation; According to the President of the Kilkenny Archaeological Society in a personal communication of the 21 September 1989, Canon Carrigan was an expert local historian who deciphered the inscription around 1900, before the lettering had deteriorated to its current state; It should be noted though that R B Armstrong’s informant from the same period read it as ‘William O’Banahan’, (Armstrong page 25 note 3).

[3] Hunt, J. op cite page 176; It may be significant that according to Curtis, E, ed, Calendar of Ormond Deeds. (1937), volume 4, (1509 to 1547), there is a Wm O’Habbayn (or O’Haggyn) who appears during that period although not described as a harper.

Submitted by Keith Sanger, 6 January 2012

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