Antoine Raftery (1779-1835)


[Antoine Ó Reachtabhra; Antoine Raiftearaí, or Raifteirí; var. Antaine; occas. Anthony Raftery]; b. [Lios Ard] Killeden, Kiltimagh, Co. Mayo, c.1784; blinded by smallpox in infancy [or at nine]; patronised by Taaffe family, afterwards severing relations with them; became a travelling bard known as ‘Kiltimagh Fiddler’; passed most of his time in the Gort-Loughrea district of Co. Galway; wrote on contemporary events such as Daniel O’Connell’s Clare election victory and the hanging of Whiteboy Anthony O’Daly;
he is best-known for “Mise Raifteirí File”, “Contae Mhaigh Eo”, and “Anuach Cuain” - a lament for those drowned at that place; also “Seanchas na Sceithe” [var. Sceiche], a metrical history of Ireland; died on Christmas Eve 1835; bur. at Rahasane, nr. Craughwell, Co. Galway, where Lady Gregory, with Hyde and Edward Martyn, erected a gravestone; his poems were edited from Douglas Hyde from RIA manuscripts [var. oral trad.] (Abhráin agus Dánta an Reachtahbhraigh, 1903, erv. 1933), and latterly by Ciarán Ó Coigligh (Raiftearaí: Amhráin agus Dánta, 1987);
Raftery is the object of some story-telling in Yeats - notably in “Dust hath close Helen’s Eyes” (Celtic Twilight, 1902); there is a biographical novel by Donn Byrne (Blind Raftery, 1924); there are modern doubts as to his authorship of his best-known poem, “Mise Raiftearaí, an file ...” - the first four lines of which appeared on the Irish five-pound note (Series C). DIB DIW DIH FDA OCIL

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  • Abhráin atá Leagta ar a Reachtúire: Songs Ascribed to Raftery, being the fifth chapter of The Songs of Connacht, in D[ouglas] Hyde, ed., Songs of Connacht, Part V (Dublin: Gill & Son 1903); Do.
  • Abhráin agus dánta an Reachtabraigh: ar na gcruinniughadh agus ar na bhfoillsiughadh den chéad uair (Baile Átha Cliath: Oifig Díolta Foilseacháin Rialtais 1933).
  • Do. introduced by Dominic Daly [facs. rep.] (NY: Barnes & Noble 1973), xii, 371, xvipp., ill., 23cm., and Do. (Shannon: IUP 1979);
  • Abhráin agus Dánta an Reachtabhraigh (Baile Atha Cliath 1933);
  • Ciarán Ó Coigligh, ed., Raiftearaí: Amhráin agus Dánta (An Clócomhar Tta., 1987);
  • Criostoir O’Flynn, ed., Blind Raftery (Cló Iar-Channachta 1997) [bilingual anthology].

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Writers of the Literary Revival
  • W. B. Yeats, “Dust Hath Closed Helen’s Eye”, in The Celtic Twilight (1902);
  • Douglas Hyde, ‘A Famous Mayo Poet’ [Raftery], in The Gael (April 1903), and Do., rep. in A Treasury of Irish Folklore, ed. Padraic Colum [2nd rev. edn.] (NY: Crown Pub. 1967), pp.115-116;
  • Lady Gregory, Poets and Dreamers (Dublin 1903; rep. Gerrards Cross, 1974) [q.pp.]
  • B. O’Rourke, County Mayo in Gaelic Folksong, in Mayo, Aspects of Its Heritage, ed. B. O’Hara (Galway 1982), pp. 153-56, 291-96;
Modern studies
  • A. Ní Cheannain, Raifterí an file (Baile Atha Cliath 1984)

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Seán Mac Giollanátha [?pseud], in The Irish Review, 3, 29 (July 1013), pp.245-47.

‘Raftery’s “Song of the Whiteboys[”]

“The Song of the Whiteboys”, two imperfect version of which have been published by Dr. Hyde is found in more complete form in Amhrain Chlainne Gaedheal. It would be more correct to call it The song of the Ribbonmen, for the Whiteboys had been succeeded by Lucht Ribini at the time of its composition. The Ribbonmen are frequently referred to by the name in the song, while the word ‘Whiteboys’ occurs only in the title.
  Raftery died in the late thirties of the last century. The descendants of the poeple among whom he lived and wandered in east and south Galway have vivid memories of Raftery himself, and the troubles and evils that made the existence of Ribbonmen an absolute necessity. There still exist houses in which Raftery slept, in which he drank with someone’s father or grandfather, or in which he played the fiddle. The poeple point to such places with pride. They remember also that whole villages once stood where the ‘white fields’, as they are called in Irish, now meet the eye. They will tell of Garrymore, which was destroyed in a single day. It contained sixty houses, and the same number of families. The landlord’s house still stands. It was beseiged at night by the disposses[s]ed. they had no firearms, but a strong man burst the hall door. Then the slaughter commenced, for Captain Davis, the landlord, was well armed and did not hesitate to shoot. Writers too often tell us only of the unpleasant methods of the Ribbonmen, but Raftery’s verses show that the people’s hopes were centred in the secret organisation, and that it seemed then to be their only means of succour. This war song which he made for the Ribbonmen does not approach his best efforts, but it possesses fine vigour, and it betrays a national aim or ieal not frequently found in late vagrant poetry, there is a lashing together of all the pashions of the time - passions that had their cause in evils such as tithes, eviction, religious persecution - and a linking up of these passions with the nationa ambition to clear Ireland of the Gaill. He urges a timely and bold uprising. There must be no cowardice or shirking, for fame and freedom are at stake. The appeal is made to the Ribbonmen in the most famial word and phrases of their own tongue. It is no selfhish appeal, although the lines in wihch the fate decreed for local tyrants is indicated, have the the very savagery of war. The line

a gceann i mbar pile in airde ...

is more graphic than any life I can remember either in English or Irish. Taxes and tithes must cease. Land must be let at its value. The Gael will raise his head and Orangemen will growl beneath the new regime. In the midst of this passionate appeal to the Ribbonmen to be men, to face the multiplicity of terrors and tortures that threaten to destroy them, Raftery pauses and reflects for an instant. Through the smoke of the burning cabins, as it were, he sees Ireland. He, too, is a Gael with as good a right to bear arms for Ireland as any. He is not th epoet of a creed or of a faction by choice. He wants also to sing for that women whose face peers through the smoke of the clearings. She is not forgotten. If every equality come and he be enfranchised and given th eright to bear arms, then

Beigh no shleagh ar mo thaobh is mo claidheamh liom sios
Is me ag ruaghadh na nGall as Eireann

Sean Mac Giollanatha
[ Click image to access JSTOR preview page - online. A full version
can be downloaded at PhDTree - online; accessed 16.10.2014.]
[ See full poem under Quotations - infra. ]
Note: Bibliographical index for An Claidheamh Soluis with Fáinne an Lae (1889-1932) lists various contribs. by Seán Mac Giollanátha - viz: Medical Officers in the Gaeltacht (Feabhra 28, 1914); Rebirth: Cúrsai Polaitíochta again Conradh na Gael (Lúnasa 1, 1914); Be Ready: Éire agus an Cogadh Domhanda (Lúnasa 8, 1914); also An Foghadh Fealltach (6.9.1913); Irish Ireland and the CRISIS (15.8.1914).
See PDF listing at Maynooth University (NUI) - EPrints - online.

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“Mise Raiftearaí, an file ...”

Mise Raifteri an file
Lán dóchais agus grádh,
Le súilibh gan solus
Le ciúnas gan crádh.

Dul sias ar m’aistear
Le solus mo chroidhe,
Fann agus tuirseach
Go deireadh mo shlighe.

Féach anois me
Agus m’aghaidh ar bhalla
Ag seinm ceóil
Do phócaibh falamh.


Some translations ...
Lady Gregory
‘I am Raftery the poet, full of hope and love; my eyes without light, my gentleness without misery. / Going west on my journey with the light of my heart; weak and tied to the end of my road. / I am now, and my back to the wall, playing music to empty pockets.’ (“His Answer to Some Stranger Asked Who He Was”.’)
Douglas Hyde
‘I am Raftery the poet, / Full of hope and love, / With eyes that have no light, / With gentleness that has no miser. // Going west upon my pilgrimage / by the light of my heart / Feeble and tired, / To the end of my road. // Behold me now, / And my face to a wall, / A-playing music / Unto empty pockets.’
Frank O’Connor
‘I am Raftery the poet, / Full of hope and love, / With sightless eyes / And undistracted calm. // Going west on my journey / By the light of my heart, / Weak and tired / To the end of my road. // Look at me now! / My face to the wall, / Playing music / To empty pockets.’
Desmond O’Grady
‘I’m Raftery the poet. / My eyes stare blind / I’ve known love, still hold hope, / live in peace of mind. // Weary and worn / I walk my way / by the light of my heart / to my death’s marked day. // Look at me now, / with my face to the wall, / playing for people / who have nothing at all.’

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Verses on the Protestant Reformation

Fág uaim do eaglais ghalla
Is do chreideamh gan bonn gan bhrí
Mar gurb é is cloch bonn dóibh
Magairlí Anraí Rí. ...

Away with your English religion,
And your baseless meaningless faith, 
For the only rock it is built on,
Are the balls of Henry the Eighth. ...

Trans. unknown; posted on Facebook by Neil Patrick Doherty, 14.10.2018.

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Eanach Dhúin (Anach Cuian)”

Má fhaighimse sláinte is fada bheidh trácht
Ar an méid a bádh as Eanach Cuain.
’S mo thrua ’márach gach athair ’s máthair
Bean is páiste ’tá á sileadh súl!

A Rí na nGrást a cheap neamh is párthas,
Nar bheag an tábhacht dúinn beirt no triúr,
Ach lá chomh breá leis gan gaoth ná báisteach
Lán a bháid acu scuab ar shiúl.

Nár mhór an t-íonadh ós comhair na ndaoine
Á bhfeicáil sínte ar chúl a gcinn,
Screadadh ’gus caoineadh a scanródh daoine,
Gruaig á cíoradh ’s an chreach á roinnt.

Bhí buachaillí óg ann tíocht an fhómhair,
Á síneadh chrochar, is a dtabhairt go cill.
’S gurb é gléas a bpósta a bhí dá dtoramh
’S a Rí na Glóire nár mhór an feall


If my health is spared I’ll be long relating,
Of the number who drowned from Anach Cuain.
And the keening after of mother and father
And child by the harbour, the mournful croon!

King of Graces, who died to save us,
T’were a small affair but for one or two,
But a boat-load bravely in calm day sailing
Without storm or rain to be swept to doom.

What wild despair was on all the faces
To see them there in the light of day,
In every place there was lamentation,
And tearing of hair as the wreck was shared.

And boys there lying when crops were ripening,
From the strength of life they were borne to clay
In their wedding clothes for their wake they robed them
O King of Glory, man’s hope is in vain.

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"Cill Aodáin"

Anois teacht an earraigh
beidh an lá ag dul chun síneadh,
Is tar éis na féil Bríde
ardóidh mé mo sheol.

Ó chuir mé i mo cheann é
ní chónóidh mé choíche
Go seasfaidh mé síos
i lár Chontae Mhaigh Eo.

I gClár Chlainne Mhuiris
A bheas mé an chéad oíche,
Is i mballa taobh thíos de
A thosaigh mé ag ól.

Go Coillte Mách rachaidh
Go ndéanfadh cuairt mhíosa ann
I bhfogas dhá mhíle
Do Bhéal an Átha Mhóir

Now coming of the Spring
the day will be lengthening,
and after St. Bridget’s Day
I shall raise my sail.

Since I put it into my head
I shall never stay put
until I shall stand down
in the center of County Mayo.

In Claremorris’ family
I will be the first night,
and in the wall on the side below it
I will begin to drink.

To Kiltimagh (Magh’s Woods) I shall go
until I shall make a month’s visit there
two miles close
                              to Aghamore.

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“Song of the Whiteboys” by Raftery - given in Seán Mac Giollanátha [?pseud], in The Irish Review, 3, 29 (July 1013), pp.245-47.

—From PhDTree - online; accessed 26.10.2014; see Seán Mac Giollanátha under Commentary - supra.

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Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 2; selects ‘Mise Raifteri’, ‘Cill Liadáin’ [var. ‘Condae Mhuigheó’, ‘Máire Ní Eidhin’; when Douglas Hyde discovered some poems of Raftery in MSS at the RIA, Lady Gregory found 22 more in another MS; Hyde issued his first edition of Raftery in 1903, and another in 1933; ‘Mise Raifteri’ may not actually be by Raftery himself, [723-38], 787, BIOG: Antoine Raftery [Raifteri], b. Lios Ard, Co. Mayo, probably 1784; some education at hedge-school; blinded by smallpox at nine; encouraged by his landlord, the Taaffes, till disagreement with them, and afterwards became wandering minstrel in South Galway area; died Christmas Eve 1835; stories about him collected by Lady Gregory and Douglas Hyde; along with Edward Martyn, they erected a stone on his grave at Killeenin nr. Craughwell, Co. Galway; Yeats also attracted to legend of Raftery. Vol. 3, see pp.1309-10 [Declan Kiberd calls him the nineteenth century writer and cult figure, p.1312]; also pp.1359, 1282-83.

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University of Ulster Library, Morris Collection, holds Abhrain agus Danta … (1933); Abhrain atá Leaghta … (1903). Blind Raftery. Abhráin atá Leagtha ar an Reachtúire, ed. of poems by Douglas Hyde (Dublin 1903, rep. with add. 1933, 1969).

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Daniel O’Connell: Raftery wrote a poem entitled “Bua Uí Chonaill [‘O’Connell’s Victory’]” arising from the Clare election of 1828 [see under Daniel O’Connell, q.v.].

Douglas Hyde, in his edn. of Songs Ascribed to Raftery, ‘[…] gives an account of first hearing “The County Mayo” being sung by an old man at the door of his cottage while himself on a shooting expedition one fine frosty morning. “[will] you learn me that song?”, he asked. “That was my first meeting with the wave that Raftery left behind him.”’ (Dominic Daly, The Young Douglas Hyde, 1974, p.29.)

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W. B. Yeats: In “The Curse of Cromwell”, Yeats echoes Ó Rathaille’s best know poem “Gile na Giolla”: ‘You ask what - I have found, and far and wide I go: / Nothing but Cromwell’s house and Cromwell’s murderous crew … // And there is an old beggar wandering in his pride - / His fathers served their fathers before Christ was crucified.’ See also translations anthologised in John Montague, ed., New Oxford Book of Irish Verse (OUP 1986), pp.195-199 [‘Brightness most bright I beheld on the way, forlorn’; ‘The drenching night drags on’; The Vision; Valentine Browne; ‘No help I’ll call’).

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J. M. Synge: Declan Kiberd suggests that Synge read widely in the poetry of Raftery and drew upon his life and work in his portrayal of the tramp, especially Christy Mahon in The Playboy of the Western World. (See Kiberd, Synge and the Irish Language, London: Macmillan 1979, p.139; quoted in Anne Gallagher, ‘Tramps, Tinkers and Beggars in the Plays of J. M. Synge’, UUC UG Diss., 2010.)

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James Joyce makes an allusion to Raftery in the “Cyclops” episode of Ulysses: ‘the harsher and more personal note which is found in the satirical effusions of the famous Raftery …’ (Ulysses, Bodley Head Edn., 1961, p.404).

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