Harte, Francis ('Frank') (1933–2005), architect, lecturer, singer, and collector of traditional songs, was born 14 May 1933 in Dublin. His father, Peter Harte (d. 1977), was originally from a farm in Co. Sligo, but moved to Dublin and bought a pub, The Tap, in Chapelizod, then still almost a village on the banks of the river Liffey. Frank's mother was Jane Harte (née Shaughnessy or O'Shaughnessy), and there were several sisters. Frank went to Blackrock College, and then studied architecture in the College of Technology, Bolton Street. In the 1950s he worked for several years in Boston, Massachusetts, but returned to Ireland, where he was employed in a prominent architectural practice, Wilfrid Cantwell and Associates, and became a member of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland in 1967. He designed a secondary school, Coláiste Bríde, in Clondalkin, Co. Dublin (planned to extend in three stages as the pupil numbers increased), and received praise for his design for the world's first museum of the horse, completed in 1977 at the National Stud, Kildare town.
Alongside his architectural practice, Harte lectured on surveying in the School of Construction within the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT); he retired in 1998, well regarded by colleagues and by generations of students. After his death, a memorial lecture was instituted in his honour, and the Frank Harte memorial prize was to be awarded to a second-year student in construction technology. Significantly, however, even in a description of the memorial lecture on DIT's website, Frank Harte's other life, outside of architecture, is given prominence.
From an early age he had been interested in the old ballads, music-hall favourites, and songs from passing generations that were still sung in his father's pub; he also was acquainted with the way of life in rural Ireland, and developed an awareness of the interplay of history, politics and music. Despite his own strongly republican outlook, he recognised songs representing other political views as being equally valid, and honoured people like Eddie Butcher (qv) and Joe Holmes (d. 1978), traditional singers from a Northern Ireland background. Like Sam Henry (qv), Harte realised the importance of collecting and documenting traditional songs, and of sharing them with others. He was particularly interested in Dublin street ballads, especially those that he was able to collect from the oral tradition. Harte was often dismissive of the history found in textbooks, claiming that it had been written by those on the winning side, and believed that it was the songs he loved that told the story of Ireland's history in the authentic voice of the Irish people. He therefore favoured live performances as sources, but also collected material from broadsheets and books. He meticulously documented over 15,000 items in his collections, maintaining a computer database as well as developing an encyclopaedic memory for words and tunes. His book Songs of Dublin (1978; reissued, 1993) and two LPs of Dublin songs – Dublin street songs (1967) and Through Dublin city (1973) (reissued jointly on a combined CD in 2004) – provided a rich source of material for other singers in the genre, and his collection, as well as his own style of declamatory singing, greatly influenced the revival of folk song in Ireland from the 1960s onward.
Harte was a fine singer and performer, confident and impressive on stage and in broadcasts. He regularly sang in pubs and was a prominent member of An Góilín Traditional Singers' Club in Dublin. He often appeared on television and in radio programmes, and presented a five-part radio series, Singing voices, on RTÉ in 1987. In 2003 he was the subject of a TG4 documentary, Sé mo laoch: Frank Harte, and that year was chosen TG4 Traditional Singer of the Year. His reputation in Ireland and beyond as an outstanding exponent of traditional song was based on hundreds of performances, and on talks at traditional music events in Ireland, Britain, France and America. He gave a performance lecture at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, in 2000, featured in summer schools such as the Willie Clancy event in Co. Clare, and for seventeen summers was a mainstay of workshops and performances in the Augusta Heritage Festival in Elkins, West Virginia; novices and aficionados alike gained from his expertise.
Particularly after he retired from his official career in architecture, Harte was able to draw the threads of his interests together, as he compiled themed collections of songs and wrote up extensive accompanying historical material. He brought out three albums on the Hummingbird label: 1798: the first year of liberty (1998), My name is Napoleon Bonaparte (2001), and The hungry voice: the song legacy of Ireland's Great Hunger (2004). A posthumous album, There's gangs of them digging (featuring songs of Irish navvies), appeared in 2007. His friend, the traditional musician Donal Lunny, collaborated with Harte on the albums, accompanying his singing in arrangements of songs that highlighted the tragedy and pathos of the lives of ordinary people. Harte's empathy for the common man was so strong that his documentation, while informative and often original, is not always politically or historically impartial, but the albums can be seen as the distillation of a life's experience and enthusiasms.
Frank Harte married Stella Murphy from Drumcondra, Dublin, in Corpus Christi church, Drumcondra, in August 1960. They had two daughters and two sons, who survived him when he died of a heart attack at his home in Chapelizod, on 27 June 2005. In addition to the memorials of his career in DIT, he was remembered by fellow musicians; there were several tribute broadcasts on radio and television, special musical commemorations, and a Frank Harte Festival was instituted in Dublin in September 2006.