The Frank Harte Festival 2020: “A Living Voice”

The 15th Frank Harte Festival will take place over the weekend of the 25-27 September 2020. This year, due to Covid-19 restrictions, all events will take place online. ITMA, who have a long standing relationship with the Festival, will be supporting the Club by filming an online virtual walking tour, and assisting in preparing their collaborative session with Poetry Ireland on Friday afternoon, and the Saturday night Grand Concert.

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Frank Harte, Féile na Bóinne, 1977. Image Joe Dowdall Collection

Despite the difficulties the country has encountered with the Covid-19 pandemic, the Festival project team are delighted that we have been able to continue to celebrate the memory  of Frank Harte and the great singing tradition which has been passed on to us by him and preceding generations. ITMA would like to salute the great determination shown by the Frank Harte Festival and An Góilín in their efforts to overcome the logistics involved in running a festival in the current environment. We would also like to acknowledge the support, flexibility and understanding of the Arts Council for their support during these extraordinary times.

Friday 25 September at 4.00pm

The Festival will open on Friday 25 at 4.00pm. This will be a pre-recorded innovative session in conjunction with Catherine Ann Cullen, Poetry Ireland’s Poet-in-Residence, from their premises in Parnell Square.  It will be entitled ‘Living Ghosts’ and will feature poets and singers in a tribute to Frank Harte.  ITMA was delighted to assist in preparing this online event.

Friday 25 September at 9.00pm

The first of the singing sessions will take place at 9.00pm on the festival’s Zoom platform and will feature the invited festival solo guest singers: Karan Casey, Macdara Yeates, Jennifer Orr, Dave O’Connor and Eibhlís  Ríordáin. 

Saturday 26 September at 11.00am

The annual singing workshop will take place on the morning of Saturday 26 at 11.00am on An Góilín’s Zoom platform, and will be given this year by the inimitable Dave O’Connor, who will feature a wide range of songs and styles with particular emphasis on the songs of Fingal. 

Saturday 26 September at 3.00pm

The afternoon singing session will be an open one, and again be on the Zoom platform which will run from 3.00pm to 5.00pm. 

Please email [email protected] to access the festival’s Zoom sessions. 

Saturday 26 September at 8.00pm 

On Saturday evening at 8.00pm a new book ‘A Living Voice’, The Frank Harte Song Collection, edited by Terry Moylan will be launched by Frank’s long-time friend and musical collaborator Dónal Lunny. 

This will be followed by The Grand Concert which will feature ‘Bryan O’Leary and The Slopes of Sliabh Luachra and the festival solo guest singers. 

ITMA was delighted to assist in preparing this online event.

Sunday 27 September at 11.00am 

One of the highlights of the festival each year, is the annual singing and walking tour. This year it is entitled ‘Those who suffer write the songs’. It will be virtual, prerecorded, and will be premiered on the Frank Harte Festival Facebook and Youtube platforms on Sunday 27 at 11.00am.  

Sunday 27 September at 2.30pm 

The festival will conclude on Sunday afternoon with a final singing session which will run from 2.30pm to 5.30pm on the Zoom platform.  

A recent publication, ‘A Living Voice’, The Frank Harte Song Collection, is being launched at the festival. The book presents transcriptions, lyrics, contextual notes and illustrations to 198 songs published or publicly performed by Frank Harte. It represents the selections Harte made when choosing which songs to perform from his vast personal collection. It is a very significant body of work and one which anyone with an interest in the singing tradition will enjoy. 

It is available to purchase from the Irish Traditional Music Archive shop at:

A note from the editor, Terry Moylan:

My first encounter with Frank Harte had the characteristics of a ‘road to Damascus’ moment. If I had been on a horse I would certainly have fallen off it. It happened in Pigotts’ music shop at the bottom of Grafton Street, in the short window between the release of Frank’s first LP record – Dublin Street Songs – and the shop going up in flames. Both events, unconnected of course, occurred in 1967. 
I had been drawn to ‘the ballads’ as a teenager for several reasons. At family parties everyone was expected to contribute a ‘party piece’; in the cub scouts (I never graduated to the senior branch, taking exception to the manner of the scout leader) we were encouraged to engage in sing-songs around the camp-fire; in youth-hostels a similar brand of self-entertainment was common; trips to the Gaeltacht as a gaeilgeoir exposed me to sean nós song; school teachers availed of opportunities to expose their classes to Irish songs; and classmates had got there before me, and introduced me to the recordings, then just beginning to be published, of the Dubliners and others. 
Before the Dubliners it had been the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem that had caught my ear, and a couple of their songs were to become my standards at Christmas parties. When I heard the Dubliners, I was astounded by how much more ‘authentic’ they were, and I felt that I was travelling deeper into the forest. Seeing Joe Heaney, as the Dubliners’ guest, at their famous Gate Theatre concert in 1966, convinced me that I was on the right path to the heart of the matter. 
However, browsing through the racks of vinyl in Piggotts in 1967 and happening on the sleeve of Frank’s first Topic album was an astounding experience. ‘Rooted to the spot’ doesn’t describe it. Of course I bought it (scrounging the money from my mother in whose company I was at the time), took it home, and in a few weeks I had transcribed and learned every song on it.  
It was many years before I met him in person, at a Góilín session, and I encountered him fairly frequently after that. He was a cheerful and affable friend and it was always a pleasure to be in his company. His conversation and humour I found entertaining, and his singing I found thrilling. He could recognise the particular things about tunes that placed them above the ordinary. For instance, his performance of Philip King’s wonderful tune to the song ‘I Am Stretched on Your Grave’ was so achingly bleak that, as a friend of mine commented, ‘it could strip paint’. He sang ‘Dunlavin Green’ to a version of the air in which each line of the tune ends on the key-note, where I had been used to hearing the third line end on the second (B if it’s sung to end on A). This could have produced a boring effect, but his florid treatment of the tune made it a triumph. The glee with which he performed ‘The Marmite Song’ and ‘When the Breakers Go Back on Full Time’ was infectious and always induced unrestrained laughter in his audience, as much in recognition of his clearly huge enjoyment of the songs as in the songs themselves. 
His contributions to the tradition – his recordings, books, and sleeve notes – were important but, as he recognised, dispersed. Shortly before his death he expressed the wish that it could be gathered and published as a book. It was a good idea he had, and it has been a mixture of a duty and a pleasure to bring it to pass. He was, as he humorously asserted himself. ‘a national treasure’. 

An Góilín, a Dublin traditional singing institution that has been meeting socially in a variety of venues in the capital since 1979. ITMA is proud to have collaborated with An Góilín on an online microsite featuring some 700 audio recordings made at An Góilín, since the early 1980s which are supplemented by various photographs, singer profiles, interviews and printed items available at