An architect by trade, Frank Harte was renowned and beloved as a singer and collector of Irish narrative songs, many of them from or about his native Dublin.
Possessing the finest instincts of a historian, archivist, and conservator, Harte expressed his fascination with and deep knowledge of Ireland’s cultural past through singing and the more than 24,000 songs he accumulated. For him, the past always reached out to the present in the songs he found or sang.
“Those in power write the history,” he often remarked, “and those who suffer write the songs, and given our history, we have an awful lot of songs.”
In The Tap pub owned and operated by his father in Chapelizod, Harte frequently heard songs sung with boozy fervor, and at age seven he purchased a ballad sheet in the pub. But his first formative exposure to Irish traditional songs came at age 14 from a traveler singing “The Valley of Knockanure” and brandishing ballad sheets at an agrarian fair in Boyle, Co. Roscommon.
“This was a song about an actual event involving real people who fought and died in County Kerry in the War of Independence,” Harte wrote in the sleeve notes for his “Through Dublin City” LP. A vital link between songs and the real lives and experiences inspiring them had been forged for him.
Harte started to collect songs in earnest while attending Blackrock College and afterward the Dublin Institute of Technology. It was a passion that burned brightly throughout his subsequent architectural career, which took him to Boston from 1958 to 1961.
Back in Ireland, Harte shunned the commercial or media spotlight craved by some other Irish singers during the so-called “ballad boom” of the 1960s. His reputation was built on the fad-resistant bedrock of word-of-mouth, and singers far and wide sought him out for songs and advice, both of which he gave selflessly and generously.
In 1967 Harte recorded two albums in two days in Bill Leader’s London living room for the Topic label. The first to be released was “Dublin Street Songs,” and the second, “Through Dublin City,” came out in 1973.
In 1975 Harte made “And Listen to My Song” for the Ram label. Recorded in a Protestant church in Rathmichael, Dublin, the album marks the initial collaboration between Frank Harte and D