A lyre or harp engraved on a tombstone is a symbol of heavenly music, praise to God, and the hope of heaven. Lyres and harps are often seen as the root of divine music.
The lyre is a stringed instrument with a U-shaped frame and is a member of the zither or harp family. A harp has an upright triangular frame with a curved neck. The strings on both are plucked with the fingers.
Lyres and harps are mentioned many times in the Bible but the first mention dates to before the flood, to a descendant of Cain. Genesis 4:21: His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes.
Probably the most famous Biblical lyre player was young David, who was called in the night to play his lyre before the ailing King Saul. 1 Samuel 16:23: And whenever the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand. So Saul was refreshed and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.
The ancient Sumerians and Egyptians are the oldest civilizations that recorded the use of lyres and harps. The ancient Greeks used lyres and harps to accompany song and recitation and the lyre was the instrument of Apollo.
The lyre or harp symbol on a tombstone may indicate that someone of Irish heritage.