Tom Maher – Our Founder

A lover of music – it was not uncommon to meet Tom Maher on the train to Dublin for a performance in the National Concert Hall even up to a short time before his death. He had a love of things Irish but possibly his greatest love was for the music of the Irish Harp.

Tom from his younger days saw the Irish Harp as our national symbol and emblem, known everywhere but not played in it’s country of origin. To quote Tom, “the harp is on the Irish Army soldier’s buttons but in my earlier days in the Army I never knew a soldier who had ever heard one played”. He saw Ireland as having a long association with the Harp and it occupying an important place in the history of the country.

Having originally come to live in Mullingar in 1943 he moved to Dublin while working with the IDA, which he joined after retiring from the Army in 1968. Tom and his wife May returned to live in Mullingar in 1984. As one of his retirement hobbies he founded the Mullingar Harp School. The idea of setting up the Harp School which came from his love of the instrument itself and the love of it’s music was to establish in Mullingar a voluntary training system along ancient lines which would be a centre for getting young people playing as in the past.

Having joined Cairde na Cruite which was founded by Cearbhaill O’Dalaigh, Chief Justice later to become President of Ireland, he knew what the main impediments were in making his idea a success, shortage of and high cost of instruments, and the availability and quality of teachers. Hoping to avoid using Japanese Harps that were coming into the Country at the time as harp making in this country had practically ceased, he set up a materials testing and design workshop in his garage. Here he enjoyed himself testing materials, studying design and amassed his information, which he sourced in the National Library, the Victoria and Alberts Museums in London and the National Museum. Ultimately he produced a number of Irish Harps four of which are still in use by the School today. These skills and information he has passed on to his son Colm Maher who is now recognised worldwide as a distinguished exponent of the ancient and specialised craft of harp making.

Tom was fortunate to secure Dr. Janet V Harbison as his first teacher at the School. Janet was succeeded by some fine teachers over the years but it is flattering to say that the sisters Kim and Tracy Flemming the first pupils of the School became teachers of the Mullingar Harp School.