Frank Harte


Singer, collector. Born in Dublin and lived at Chapelizod, and architect attached to Bolton Street College. Introduced to traditional song through a ballad-sheet seller in Boyle, he made collecting and singing of ballads his life mission. He amassed a large archive collection of song of all types and became a voice of authority on the song tradition consulted by many well- and lesser-known singers for lyrics, and for support, knowledge and warmth, without preference or conditions. Among these were Christy Moore, Andy Irvine, Karan Casey, Niamh Parsons and Rosie Stewart. Seeing himself as a ‘story teller in song’ he was hugely energetic and passionate figure in the Irish song revival, a regular participant in the diverse singing festivals, sessions and ‘weekends’ in Ireland, England, Scotland and the US where he also delivered lectures and talks on songs and singing.

Recording. A contributor to national radio, he recorded extensively, with early albums Through Dublin City, Dublin Street Songs, We Shall Overcome, Daybreak and a Candle End, and And Listen to My Song (1975). His landmark set of minutely researched recordings – concerning 1798 (The Croppy’s Complaint, The First Year of Liberty), Napoleon (My Name is Napoleon Bonaparte, 2001), the Great Famine (The Hungry Voice, 2004), and Irish Labour (There’s Gangs of them Digging, 2005) – were his compelling historical project, and were achieved in his later years in collaboration with Dónal Lunny, the last released posthumously. These carried extensive commentaries and lyrics in accompanying text booklets; his earliest writing is Song in Dublin. His belief in song was typically expressed by him in the lines of poet Brendan Kennelly – ‘All songs are living ghosts / And long for a living voice’. For his contribution to singing he was awarded TG4’s Traditional Singer of the Year Gradam in 2003, and an annual festival was initiated in his honour in Dublin, 2006.

Source: Fintan Vallely, ed., Companion to Irish Traditional Music (Cork University Press, 2011)


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Image by Colm Keating
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Songs sung by Frank Harte

An Giln Song Project from the Irish Traditional Music Archive, generously funded by the Arts Council of Ireland through its DEIS scheme