herald

Saturday 10 December 2016

Meet the Dublin harpist who plays for thousands a day and Japanese royalty

Harpist Cormac de Barra (Ranelagh) at Expo
Harpist Cormac de Barra (Ranelagh) at Expo

HE PLAYED the harp for the Japanese Emperor when he was just 17 and more recently provided the music when actor Gabriel Byrne got married.

Now Dubliner Cormac De Barra is playing for up to 8,000 people a day at the Irish Pavilion at Expo Milan 2015, an international event showcasing food.

The 42-year-old probably didn't have to compete with the noise of cattle when he performed for Emperor Akihito at a previous Expo in Osaka.

Ireland's slot at the latest event promotes the country's food and tourism with displays and sound effects - including, appropriately rainy downpours - playing inside.

"The thunder and lightning go away. We can stop the thunder. The cow and wind stay," he says, laughing.

Music is in Cormac's blood.

"My grandmother was my harp teacher. Mam plays music. Dad is a theatre director - he's a musical director so there was no escape," he said.

"My grandmother Roisin Ni She was quite a well-known harpist. She did Dilin O Deamhas on the television in the 80s. We were the kids on that show."

The Ranelagh man - who got a degree in broadcasting and did a stint hosting the arts show on TG4 - will be in Milan until October, playing for the crowds of mostly Italian, French and German visitors.

Credentials

He explained the purpose of the Irish Exhibit - which has Nepal and Angola as its neighbours - is pushing the Bord Bia initiative Origin Green, which promotes the high-standard environmental credentials and traceability of Irish food.

"It's aimed at letting the world know what Ireland is doing around sustainability, with culture, with tourism and the Wild Atlantic Way," he said.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny visited the Expo and described it as "extraordinary", saying that the attendance figures suggest that 1.25m people will pass through the Irish Pavilion.

"It's a brilliant opportunity for Ireland to sell and promote what it does best, which is food and hospitality and tourism," he said.

Cormac, who played for Mr Kenny, is an old hand at these events.

"This is my fifth expo. When I was 17 I did my first one, playing the harp in Osaka for six months," he said.

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