New TV documentary chronicling the life of Clonmel’s Frank Patterson

The tenor Frank Patterson with his wife Eily OGrady and the American President Ronald Reagan at the White House.
A new documentary about the great Irish tenor Frank Patterson, to mark the 75th anniversary of his birth in 1938, will be broadcast on TG4 at 9.30 p.m. Sunday, 15 September 2013 and repeated the following night, Monday, 16 at 7.30 p.m.

A new documentary about the great Irish tenor Frank Patterson, to mark the 75th anniversary of his birth in 1938, will be broadcast on TG4 at 9.30 p.m. Sunday, 15 September 2013 and repeated the following night, Monday, 16 at 7.30 p.m.

Frank Patterson: Guth Órga na hÉireann is presented by Catherine Foley.

The half-hour programme, which celebrates the singer’s life, takes a nostalgic look back at his life, his love of music, his rise to fame, his many successes and his strong Clonmel roots.

During his life-time looks he achieved great success, releasing over 40 albums in six different languages and packing halls and venues around the world until his untimely death at the age of 61. He was the first Irish artist to have his own show in New York’s famous Radio City Music Hall, selling out its 6,000 seats for six consecutive years. In Ireland his top-rated television show, For Your Pleasure, ran from 1974 to 1984 on RTÉ 1. His performance as the evangelist in the Bach Passions was a particular favorite with audiences in Dublin and in London. He sang opera, oratorio and works by Handel, Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert and Berlioz. At the height of his career, which spanned four decades, many believed Patterson to be more famous than Pavarotti.

After leaving school as a young teenager, he joined his family’s printing business but his desire to sing never left him and in 1962 he left for Dublin to pursue a full-time singing career. He trained with Dr Hans Waldemar Rosen. After only two years of study, he entered the Feis Ceoil in 1964, winning all four of the major prizes at the national competition. His career as a tenor took off as a result.

In this new programme Foley interviews some of Frank’s friends and family, including his son Éanán Patterson, who recalls playing with his parents on some of the most famous stages in the world. He recounts how his parents met and how the three of them played together until Frank’s untimely death in 2000. Éanán also talks about his father’s ambitions as a child growing up in Clonmel, about how proud he was when he sang for Pope John Paul II on two different occasions and when he sang for two US presidents at the White house.

Imelda Malone, Frank’s only sister, recalls how Patterson travelled as a teenager to Vienna to visit his idol, the tenor Anton Dermota. She remembers Frank’s frequent visits to a long-gone little record shop off Abbey Street in Clonmel.

“I think Frank spent every penny he ever earned in the printing business going down to Belinda Cashin’s,” she says.

Other contributors to the programme include the Clonmel man Professor Micheál Ó Súilleabháin, musicians Fiachna Ó Braonáin and Odhrán Ó Casaide and the actor Ingrid Craigie, who remembers Frank on the set of the John Huston film The Dead. “He was an absolutely natural,” she says.

Such was the extent of his fame that when he died in 2000, the traffic stopped on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan to allow the funeral cortege pass and as a mark of respect.

The documentary is directed by RoseAnn Foley and presented by her sister Catherine Foley who is a full-time writer and broadcaster and a former staff journalist with The Irish Times. RoseAnn and Catherine work together to produce documentaries for TG4. In the past they have created a range of programmes, about individuals such as the writer Molly Keane, the singer Tom Clancy, the Waterford photographer Annie Brophy and the journalist Donal Foley.