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Red Knot

All reviews by David Marcus unless otherwise noted.
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the first year of liberty
Frank Harte (voice) and Donal Lunny (guitar, bodhrán) 17 tracks; 67'56". Hummingbird HBCD0014.
Beginning in the days when so few people listened to the old songs, Dublin-born Frank Harte has been obsessed with songs that tell stories. Since his first exposure (from a tinker singing and selling ballad sheets at a fair in Boyle), he has amassed a collection of songs that is considered to be one of the largest of any contemporary singer. On this beautifully-produced album Harte, who sees himself as a singing storyteller as much as a singer, brings us songs not only from the rebels but also some Orange songs (notably a version of Croppies Lie Down that tells the story of the battle of Vinegar Hill.)

In this album, he presents 17 songs of that tragic year when, at least for a brief time, there were free Irishmen in Ireland. This is not a cheerful album but it is a beautiful one. It speaks for the 1798 rebellion with great reverence, and with horror for the tragedies repeated almost everywhere where the rebellion was fought.

I've heard Harte sing Dunlavin Green, the story of thirty-six men betrayed and shot, two by two, kneeling on the town's fair green. His performance, both live (unacompanied) and on this album with Donal Lunny, chills me each time I hear it. Harte says Lunny's accompaniment "resonates like a funeral bell throughout the song." In talking about this song, Harte reveals much of his attitudes toward music: "This is a local ballad, a song that tells not of a big national event; but in it one can hear the small voices telling of their personal loss, the voices of those who stood and watched their kin being killed. I often think that this personal expression of grief, and the importance of the local event, is something that often evades historians who are looking at the larger national picture. There were many such massacres as these in the other towns during the short period of the rebellion of 1798. I think this songs speaks for all of them."

The Croppy Boy, sung to a variant tune I know as Lord Franklin, is sung slowly and matter of factly. This is perhaps of the saddest songs from the 1798 Rebellion, and Harte's delivery underscores and adds to the sadness.

Other tracks include:

  • Henry Joy
  • General Munro
  • By Memory Inspired
  • Shan Van Vocht
  • Father Murphy
  • Ballyshannon Lane
  • Wind the Shakes the Barley
  • Roddy McCorley
  • Henry Joy McCracken
  • Bodenstown Churchyard (The Grave of Wolfe Tone)
  • Rights of Man

Harte has a beautiful voice. Once I've heard him sing a song, it just doesn't sound right being sung by anyone else, and I recommend this album highly to anyone who loves traditional song. The album includes 32 pages of notes about the songs, complete lyrics, and a good history of the rebellion. Accompaniments by Donal Lunny are understated and supportive. They do nothing more than support the songs--which is actually what and all they should do.

Rating: A.

Order information: OSSIANUSA@AOL.COM (603-783-4383 or, for FAX, 603-783-9660) or Hummingbird Records at 7-9 Sweetman's Avenue, Blackroot, Co. Dublin, Ireland (

Frank Harte can be reached at

PS - While I've enjoyed Harte and Lunny's earlier collaboration, Daybreak and a Candle-End (1987) very much, this new album shows a more mature voice and a single focus on a time and place. However, the older album may be preferred by a listener who wants a less serious collection of songs, and I also recommend that CD very much.
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