The Lyre, Ancient and Modern
The Lyre seems to have appeared in Mesopotamia and Egypt in about the 4 century B.C. During the golden age of Greek civilisation, the lyre became very important as an instrument to accompany religious ceremonies, and for use in the process of healing medicine. The bible mentions King David playing the lyre, and several lyres have been found in Anglo Saxon tombs in england, implying a noble connection.The modern lyre appeared in the 1920’s, the work of L. Gartner and E. Pracht, from an indication by Rudolf Steiner. Steiner believed that a new musical instrument was needed for our time, where player and listener alike could be brought together into a soothing, therapeutic listening space.
Sam Irwin Luthier
The lyre first enchanted Sam Irwin when he saw it used in the musical life of his children, who were being educated at a Steiner school during the 1970s. This was the inspiration to build his own lyre, and after prototypes he went on to design the award-winning Celtic lyre in 1994 and to begin to build lyres professionally a year later. However Sam's career as an instrument maker is of a much longer duration.
Sam's interest in woodwork arose as a child in his grandfather's workshop in Co. Antrim. His childhood curiosity for music was also strong, and this prompted Sam to ask his parents for music lessons. These continued through his teen years and he also relished the woodwork classes that formed part of his grammar school curriculum.
Years later, amid zeitgeist of the late 60s, the twin interests of woodwork and music fused together in musical instrument repair. Not long after came the idea of making an instrument. The first, a classical guitar, he built in 1977.
Around the same time Sam met the now world-renowned luthier George Lowden. Sam went to work with George in his workshop in Bangor Co. Down. Sam's relationship with Lowden guitars continued in one form or another, for the next 20 years. During this time Sam was involved in the construction of thousands of Lowden acoustic guitars. As designer, advisor and freelance consultant, he also undertook similar work within the world famous Avalon guitar factory.