How many Bardic Harpers does it take to change a lightbulb?

Ursula Burns
Join Ursula Burns for a walk through 30 years of dangerous harping.


8:00PM – 9:30PM (doors 7:30pm)

Studio, Crescent Arts Centre, 2 University Road, Belfast


In Ireland we are proud of our harping culture! From the Bunting Manuscripts of the Irish Harpers Assemble to Guinness, Politics, Weddings, and Funerals.

The harp is an iconic part of our identity.

Wafting through mists of time, Ursula Burns asks, “what got lost in our harping history?”

Join Ursula and her harp, for a walk through her song writing journey that explores her relationship with Belfast. Ursula will finish her talk with a performance of new instrumental compositions and demonstrate the unique technique she has developed over the last 30 years.

The bards of Olde were mostly blind, however they had the gift of sight. Spiritual, sovereign, and druidic they were treated like royalty.

Where they were seated was considered the top of the table.

They held a magical power.

The fore-bringers of news and entertainment through sound and song.

Their fingers not just on the harp but on the pulse of society and politics.

From lords to paupers, everyone appreciated the harp.

Until a bitter card was played that cut their patronage and forced them underground.

Our modern harping culture focuses on the work of Bunting and the Belfast Harp festival in 1782 which was an important notation of what was then a dying culture.

But why was the culture in decline?

What got lost in the telling of this story?

Why did Queen Elizabeth I first decree to kill the harpers and burn their instruments?

How was society changing at that time and how does this resonate with what we are experiencing now?

Ursula Burns, The Dangerous Harpist, has been breaking the cultural stereo typical image of the harp for 30 years. Creating a hybrid style that resonates with Paraguayan and Celtic Techniques and a strong focus on self-expression and songwriting.

Ursula’s childhood in Belfast deeply influenced her music. Growing up surrounded by violence has given her a finely tuned radar for oppression.

“When I began to play harp in 1994, the only methods of learning were classical and traditional. Classical was not available to me with dyslexia and traditional music was my linage. I wanted to break out and beat a new path.”

Visually she likes to place the harp in less than idyllic situations. Highlighting the tension between the sweet image and sound of the Irish harp and the reality of the Falls Road in the 1980s. Her lyrics often address difficult subjects with a subversive humour.

Over the past two years it has become increasingly difficult to perform comedy. At Edinburgh Festival in 2022 in a bid for self-preservation, Ursula found herself self-censoring on stage to avoid the stress of cancel culture. She began to retreat from the arts scene in Belfast and travel further afield to perform.

“I thought about the Irish bardic harpers pre 1600s. Why were they considered dangerous? Why did Queen Elizabeth first decree to ‘hang the harpers and burn their instruments’? What changes forced them to go underground? What got lost in Harping history pre-Bunting?”

It was living through the challenges of the last few years that made Ursula draw a correlation between her marketing of ‘The Dangerous Harpist’ and realise a connection to the lost ancient Bardic Harping Tradition. Ursula is exploring the idea that around the time Ireland lost its language there was an attack on personal freedom and sovereignty and a slow death of an old way of life.

“The Harpers were poets and composers; they had the means to tell stories and tales in song. In those days, the Bards were the news and media. The English Royal threat to drive them underground created a pivotal cultural change that affected society. I feel a resonance and similarity with the danger of the changes we face as artists navigating cancel culture and as a society as we cope with losing our freedoms to Digital ID, Cashless society, AI, and Transhumanism.”


“Burns is a perceptive writer with the ability to capture the profound and the profane with equal clarity.” Hot Press

“She is enchanting and funny in equal measure with a lovely lilting voice that makes the falls road sound like Brigadoon” Kate Copstick

Age advisory: 14+


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