Hammond, David Andrew ('Davy') (1928–2008), singer, folklorist, television producer and documentary maker, was born on 5 December 1928 in Miss Kells's nursing home on the Castlereagh Road in Belfast, the son of Leslie Hammond, a tram driver, and his wife Annie (née Lamont). His parents were not city people; his mother grew up near Ballybogey in the Ballymoney area of Co. Antrim, and his father, though from a family with roots in south Co. Londonderry, had lived in Ballymoney as a boy, and had been apprenticed to a blacksmith there. Both had a strong sense of their rural identity, and maintained the Ulster-Scots speech of their childhood. They were never quite at home in the Belfast suburb of Cregagh, and in particular did not share the sectarian attitudes that were much more present in 1930s Belfast than they had been in north Antrim, one of the last strongholds of presbyterian radicalism. Even as a boy, David was interested in the old songs that his mother sang, and realised that the traditions in which his parents had been nurtured were disappearing quickly in an increasingly urbanising and modernising world. When he encountered the work of E. Estyn Evans (qv) in the early 1940s, he was encouraged to document both rural tradition and the streetlife of the city, and he and a couple of friends, though still just teenagers, went off on their bicycles to seek for folklore in the hinterland of Belfast.
After primary school, David won a scholarship in 1941 to Methodist College Belfast, where he did well in examinations, and then went to Stranmillis College to train as a teacher. In his first job, in Harding Memorial primary school in east Belfast, Hammond proved to be a popular, idealistic teacher, and was remembered by his pupils fifty years later as a fine singer and a teller of ghost stories, who had taken the class on memorable youth-hostelling trips to the Mourne mountains. Youth hostelling and folklore collecting increased Hammond's awareness and understanding of the rich traditions of the whole community in the north of Ireland, and he was never to be constrained by political or religious barriers. His early career mirrored closely that of James Hawthorne (qv), and their paths were to cross in later life.
Hammond was friendly with many others active in the cultural life of Northern Ireland, and made a name for himself as a song collector and eventually as an expert on all aspects of traditional singing. In 1956 he was awarded a scholarship to travel in the US to meet the important pioneers of folk-music collecting and performance there. He recorded his first LP record of Ulster songs, I am the wee falorie man (1958), in America, and became friends with Pete Seeger, the Appalachian singer Jean Ritchie, with old blues singers, and notably with Liam Clancy (1935–2009), one of the three Clancy brothers who as a quartet with Tommy Makem (qv) were to popularise Irish folk music in America and elsewhere.
On returning to Belfast, Hammond took a job in 1958 in Orangefield secondary school in the east of the city, where the highly regarded headmaster John Malone (d. 1982) encouraged new approaches to education. Among Hammond's pupils at Orangefield was George Ivan 'Van' Morrison (b. 1945), who credited him with inspiring his interest in Irish traditional music. Hammond enjoyed teaching, but was increasingly drawn to folk-song performance and recording. He appeared regularly on radio programmes of the BBC and Radio Éireann, and in 1964 joined the schools department in BBC Northern Ireland. There, with colleagues like Sam Hanna Bell (qv), James Hawthorne and others, he worked on programmes such as Today and yesterday in Northern Ireland, which for the first time introduced pupils (and many adults) to local history and to aspects of tradition. In 1968, with two friends, the poets Seamus Heaney (1939–2013) and Michael Longley (b. 1939), Hammond put on poetry and traditional music events in schools all over the province. The Arts Council funded the Room to Rhyme project, which was immensely influential and inspiring, and was still talked about many years later by those who attended as children.
Hammond was creatively involved with hundreds of hours of broadcasting, in television as well as radio, and eventually for adults as well as children. He wrote scripts, produced documentary series such as Ulster in focus and Explorations, and brought an artistic sensibility to filming, as well as working sympathetically with traditional singers and craftspeople. Dusty bluebells, a sensitively made film of Belfast children's street games, won the prestigious Golden Harp award in 1972. After he left the BBC to work as a freelance, and founded Flying Fox Films in 1986, Hammond continued making documentaries on many aspects of Ulster life and heritage. His film called Steel Chest, Nail in the Boot and the Barking Dog (1986), about working in the Belfast shipyards, also won a Golden Harp award; a companion book of the same name was published. Another book was Belfast, city of song (1989), with Maurice Leyden; in 1979 Hammond edited a volume of the songs of Thomas Moore (qv). His documentary programmes included films about singers from Boho, Co. Fermanagh, and about the big houses of the gentry in Ireland. The magic fiddle (1991/2) examined the role of the instrument in the folk music of Ireland, Scandinavia, Canada, and the American south, while Another kind of freedom (1993) was about the experiences of a former Orangefield pupil, the Beirut hostage Brian Keenan (b. 1950). Hammond also produced and directed the films Something to write home about (1998), Where are you now? (1999), and Bogland (1999), all of which explored Seamus Heaney's home region and experiences.
The first poem in Heaney's collection Wintering out (1972) was entitled 'For David Hammond and Michael Longley'; their lifelong friendship led to several other creative collaborations. In particular, after a distressing evening in 1972 when Hammond, affected by the despair and terror unleashed by IRA bombing of his city, was for once unable to sing, Heaney meditated on the experience in an essay and in an important poem, 'The singer's house' (subsequently included in his 1979 Field work collection). The poem urged the singer to keep singing, to defend the values of art and friendship in a hostile time. Hammond collaborated with Donal Lunny and other traditional musicians to bring out an LP also called The singer's house (1978), which included Heaney's poem on the album sleeve, and featured some of the songs that Hammond had made famous, such as 'My Aunt Jane' and 'Bonny Woodgreen', from his vast repertoire of songs from Ulster. The album was reissued in 1980.
In 1995 Hammond was one of Heaney's personal guests at the award of his Nobel prize in Stockholm, characteristically wearing his usual, mustard-yellow, cattle-dealer boots with evening dress. On another formal occasion, when he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Dublin City University in November 2003, he surprised the audience by standing up in his academic robes to sing 'My Lagan love', instead of giving an address. Hammond's unique, light mellow voice was an ideal vehicle for the traditional ballads which he knew so well; he made a number of records in the 1960s, including Belfast street songs, and published the book Songs of Belfast (1978). He also encouraged traditional musicians like Arty McGlynn, and collaborated with them on various recording projects. Hammond was well known for live and often impromptu performances at festivals and venues in Ireland and America; he performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.
Hammond was also a notable collaborator with poets and dramatists, especially in the important Field Day project, of which he was a director, along with Seamus Heaney (qv), Tom Paulin, Seamus Deane, Tom Kilroy, and the project's founders, Brian Friel (qv) and Stephen Rea. Hammond supported the Field Day search for a 'fifth province', where history and community and culture could intersect, believing that to speak unthinkingly of 'two traditions' was to perpetuate superficial political divisions. As he said in an interview in the Irish Times (4 July 1998), songs could 'take you out of yourself' and become bridges to unite people.
Hammond received many honours; in 1994 he received the Estyn Evans award for his contribution to mutual understanding, and his work featured in several major events in his honour: in the University of North Florida (1999), in the Celtic Film Festival in Belfast (2003), and in Belfast's Linen Hall Library (2005). A time to dream, a film about his life and work, was broadcast on BBC Northern Ireland in December 2008.
David Hammond died in hospital in Belfast, after a long illness, on 25 August 2008, survived by his wife Eileen (née Hambleton) (whom he married 19 July 1954) and by their son and three daughters. His funeral in St Finnian's church was a major cultural event, when friends sang and played and spoke in his honour.
In Seamus Heaney's last collection of poetry, Human chain (2010), he included a poignant farewell to Hammond. The poet imagines (or perhaps dreams) of another visit to the singer's house, but this time 'The door was open and the house was dark'.