seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Frank Harte, Traditional Irish Singer

frank-harteFrank Harte, traditional Irish singer, music collector, architect and lecturer, is born in Chapelizod, County Dublin on May 14, 1933. He emigrates to the United States for a short period, but later returns to Ireland where he works as an architect, lecturer at Dublin Institute of Technology in Rathmines, Dublin and in later life fully engages in songs in many ways.

Harte’s introduction to Irish traditional singing comes from a chance listening to an itinerant who is selling ballad sheets at a fair in Boyle, County Roscommon. He begins collecting early in life and by the end of his life has assembled a database of over 15,500 recordings.

Harte becomes a great exponent of the Dublin street ballad, which he prefers to sing unaccompanied. He is widely known for his distinctive singing, his Dublin accent having a rich nasal quality complementing his often high register. His voice mellows considerably by the time of his later recordings, allowing for an expressive interpretation of many love songs such as “My Bonny Light Horseman” on the album My Name is Napoleon Bonaparte. This is contrasted sublimely by his cogent interpretation of the popular “Molly Malone.” He also becomes more accustomed to singing with accompaniment which is not strictly part of the Irish singing tradition and does not come naturally to him.

Though Irish Republican in his politics, Harte believes that the Irish song tradition need not be a sectarian or nationalist preserve. He believes that songs are 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, he does not consider himself to be a sean-nós singer.

Harte wins the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil singing competition on a number of occasions and in 2003 receives the Traditional Singer of the Year award from the Irish-language television channel TG4.

Harte records several albums and makes numerous television and radio appearances, most notably the Singing Voices series he writes and presents for RTÉ Radio, which is produced by Peter Browne in 1987. He is a regular at the Sunday morning sessions at The Brazen Head pub, along with Liam Weldon who runs the session. He is also an enthusiastic supporter of An Góilín Traditional Singer’s Club.

Harte appears at many American festivals including The Blarney Star in New York City, Gaelic Roots in Boston College, The Catskills Irish Arts Week, The Greater Washington Ceili Club Festival in Maryland and the Milwaukee Irish Fest and for seventeen years he is a veritable staple at the Irish Week every July in the Augusta Heritage Festival in Elkins, West Virginia where he often performs with Mick Moloney.

Frank Harte dies of a heart attack, aged 72, on June 27, 2005. His influence is still evident in singers such as Karan Casey and he continues to be remembered fondly in sessions and folk clubs on both sides of the Irish Sea.

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Molly Malone Day

molly-malone-statueThe Dublin Millennium Commission proclaims in 1988 that June 13 is to be designated as “Molly Malone Day.”

Molly Malone is a popular song, set in Dublin, which has become the unofficial anthem of Dublin City. The song tells the fictional tale of a fishmonger who plies her trade on the streets of Dublin, but who dies of a fever at a young age. In the late 20th century a legend grows that there is a historical Molly, who lived in the 17th century. She is typically represented as a hawker by day and part-time prostitute by night. In contrast she has also been portrayed as one of the few chaste female street-hawkers of her day. However, there is no evidence that the song is based on a real woman of the 17th century or any other time for that matter. The name “Molly” originated as a familiar version of the names Mary and Margaret. While many such “Molly” Malones are born in Dublin over the centuries, no evidence connects any of them to the events in the song. Nevertheless, in 1988 the Dublin Millennium Commission endorses claims about a Mary Malone who died on June 13, 1699, and proclaims June 13 to be “Molly Malone Day.”

Artists who have recorded versions of Molly Malone include Heino, U2, The Saturdays, Danny Kaye, Pete Seeger, Frank Harte, Sinéad O’Connor, Johnny Logan, Ian McCulloch, Paul Harrington, and Damien Leith. However, the best-known version is recorded by The Dubliners.

Molly Malone is commemorated in a statue designed by Jeanne Rynhart and unveiled by then Lord Mayor of Dublin, Alderman Ben Briscoe during the 1988 Dublin Millennium celebrations. The statue is presented to the city by Jury’s Hotel Group to mark the Millennium. Originally placed at the bottom of Grafton Street in Dublin, the statue is known colloquially as “The Tart With The Cart,” “The Dish with the Fish,” and “The Trollop With The Scallops.” The statue portrays Molly as a busty young woman in seventeenth-century dress. Her low-cut dress and large breasts were justified on the grounds that as “women breastfed publicly in Molly’s time, breasts were popped out all over the place.”

The statue is later removed and placed in storage to make way for new tracks for Luas, Dublin’s tram/light rail system. On July 18, 2014, it is temporarily placed outside the Dublin Tourist Office on Suffolk Street. The statue is expected to be returned to its original location in late 2017.