Frank Harte was born on May 14,
1933, on the banks of the Liffey, at Chapelizod, where his family ran
The Tap pub. His introduction to Irish singing came, he said, from a
chance listening to an itinerant who was selling ballad sheets at a
fair in Boyle. He became a great exponents of the Dublin street ballad,
which he preferred to sing unaccompanied. After qualifying as an
architect He spent three years working in the United States.
He was widely known for his singing - his Dublin accent was laced with
a rich nasal quality - and also as a collector of songs and the stories
behind them. He had assembled a database of over 15,500 recordings. He
began collecting early in life. He remembered buying ballads from a man
who sold them by the sheet at the side of the Adelphi Cinema.
"It was a great mixture of people in Chapelizod - Catholics and
Protestants," he once told John Kelly of The Irish Times.
"There was also a fair few of the old crowd knocking around - the
Dublin Fusiliers who had come back from the First World War and they
all had their input too. They had these songs about soldiers going away
to war and leaving the sweetheart behind and they were all tearjerkers.
I would also hear a lot of the old music-hall songs and Victorian
melodrama songs such as She Was Only a Bird in a Gilded Cage
or . . . things that would tear your heart out, bring tears to your
He once wrote about his song collecting: "I have been gathering songs
around the country for a good number of years now, and seldom have I
come across singers who are unwilling to part with their songs.
Probably they realise as I do, that the songs do not belong to them,
just as they did not belong to the people they got them from." To
augment the point on another occasion he quoted the poet Brendan
All songs are living ghosts
And long for a living voice
Proud of his musical heritage he believed that this need not be a
sectarian or nationalist preserve: "The Orange song is just as valid an
expression as the Fenian." He liked to sing out of his love for a song
than a desire to please an audience: "A traditional singer is not
singing for a commercial audience so he doesn't have to please an
Starting in 1998, he recorded three
CDs of songs
for the Hummingbird label about the social uprisings of the late 18th
century, the United Irishmen and the struggle against royal supremacy
in both Ireland and France. The first of these, 1798 - The
First Year of Liberty, contains many of the traditional songs
of '98 including Henry
Joy, Roddy McCorley and General Munro. The
CDs are accompanied by Frank's researched and informative sleeve notes.
He was a regular at the Sunday
morning sessions in the Brazen Head pub
along with the late Liam
Weldon. He was also an enthusiastic supporter
of the Dublin Goilin Singers Club. A regular at singers' sessions in
Ireland, he appeared at clubs, seminars and festivals in France,
Britain and America where he was in demand as a teacher. He also made
numerous television appearances.
In 2003 he was selected as the TG4
Singer of the Year. TG4 is the country's Irish language television
station and the award is a prestigious one. In the following year he
released The Hungry
Voice: The Song Legacy of Ireland's Great Hunger,
an album of songs relating to the Famine. He was always keen to pass
songs on to the younger generation of singers, a point warmly
acknowledged by Karan Casey.
Frank Harte died on June 27, 2005,
and was survived by his wife Stella, daughters, Sinead and Orla, and
sons Darragh and Cian.
There's Gangs of
Them Digging, Frank Harte, 2007
The Hungry Voice,
with Donal Lunny, (2004) Hummingbird HBCD0034
My Name is
Napoleon Bonaparte, with Donal Lunny, (2001)
1798 - The First Year of Liberty, Frank
Through Dublin City, Frank Harte, Ossian
Dublin Street Songs, Frank Harte, Ossian