Frank Harte was a traditional Irish singer, song collector, architect and lecturer. He was born and raised in Dublin. His father Peter Harte who had moved from a farming background in Sligo owned ‘The Tap’ pub in Chapelizod.
Frank Harte’s introduction to Irish traditional singing came, he said, from a chance listening to an itinerant who was selling ballad sheets at a fair in Boyle, County Roscommon.
“And the banshee cried when Dalton died
In the valley of Knockanure
“This is a far cry from Dublin street songs, but it was the first song I heard, sung by a travelling man, that made me aware that we had a tradition of songs telling about the joys and sorrows, the tragedies and battles of a people in a way that I found irresistible. From that first hearing I have been fascinated by the idea of the story told in song.”
Frank became a great exponent of the Dublin street ballad, which he preferred to sing unaccompanied. He was widely known for his distinctive singing, his Dublin accent having a rich nasal quality complementing his often high register.
Though Irish Republican in his politics, he believed that the Irish song tradition need not be a sectarian or nationalist preserve: “The Orange song is just as valid an expression as the Fenian”. He believed that songs were a key to understanding the past often saying :”those in power write the history, while those who suffer write the songs, and, given our history, we have an awful lot of songs.”. Though considered a stalwart of traditional Irish singing and well aware of it, Frank did not consider himself to be a sean-nós singer.
Frank won the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil singing competition on a number of occasions and in 2003, he received the Traditional Singer of the Year award from the Irish-language television channel TG4.
Frank Harte died of a heart attack, aged 72, on 27 June 2005 and is survived by his wife Stella (née Maguire), daughters, Sinead and Orla, and his sons Darragh and Cian. His influence is still evident in singers such as Karan Casey. Frank continues to be remembered fondly in sessions and folk clubs on both sides of the Irish sea.
Frank Harte singing Napolean Bonaparte (Siar an Bóthar): http://youtu.be/zwCaYKDfv_M