Last updated

December 9, 2007

Frank Harte
1933 - 2005

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.
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 eyes."
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 Kennelly:
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 audience."
He recorded extensively and made numerous television appearances. His most recent recording is 1798 - The First Year of Liberty. It contains many of the traditional songs of '98 including Henry Joy, Roddy McCorley and General Munro.
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. 

In 2003 he was selected as the TG4 Traditional Singer of the Year. TG4 is the country's Irish language television station and the award is a prestigious one.

Frank Harte died on June 27, 2005, and was survived by his wife Stella, daughters, Sinead and Orla, and sons Darragh and Cian.

1798 - The First Year of Liberty, Frank Harte,1998, Hummingbird.
Through Dublin City, Frank Harte, Ossian
Dublin Street Songs, Frank Harte, Ossian



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