Antoine O Raifteiri (Anthony Raftery)
A Poet, Singer, Musician, O’ Raifiteri’s legacy has been “Cill Aodain.” He has been immortalized with statues and a Festival in his honour.
Antoine O’Raifteri or Anthony Raftery was born in Killedan, Kiltimagh, Co. Mayo during 1779. His father was a weaver from Co. Sligo, his mother a Brennan from Kiltimagh. He studied at the Hedge schools. He was knowledgeable in Greek and Latin also the English Language. He was the only surviving child from nine children in the family that contacted smallpox between the years (1785– 88) with the result that Anthony lost his sight. [i]
Raifteri was a talented young person, he excelled at Wrestling also was the Anchor – man at local Tug O War. His Patron was Frank Taffe (his father’s Landlord) that encouraged him to perform his poems also he was employed by Taffe as a household messenger delivered mostly on horseback. At the time of his mother’s death in his late teens he was an employee of Taffe. O’Raftieri died on 24th December 1835 at the house of Diarmuid Cloonan of Killeeneen, Craughwell, Co. Galway; he is buried in the nearby Cemetery of the Poets. [ii]
However due to a falling out with Frank Taffe, Raifteri spent his life as an itinerant musician and poet along the roads and towns of Co. Galway also he performed in some of the large houses. He played the fiddle, sang songs and poetry in the Irish tradition. Raifteri was a poet of the people, he was on the side of those who agitated for ‘fair rents’ and ‘security of tenure’, his work dealt with the events of that time as he reflected on the people’s own views. His legacy has been his “Eanach Dhuin” plus “Cill Aodain.” Lady Gregory reported she was told he carried a book with him – a Pantheon – he would invite people to read to him then he memorized the contents. None of his poems were written during his lifetime but were transcribed by Douglas Hyde Raifteri’s poetry from RIA Manuscripts as “Ambhráin agus Danta an Reachtbhragh” in 1903.[iii]
Antoine O’Raifteri died on Christmas Eve, 1835 at the house of Darby Cloonan. He is interred in Reilig na bhFile at Croughwell, Co. Galway. His gravestone was erected by Lady Gregory, Edward Martyn and Douglas Hyde.
O’Raifteri’s famous poems, “Eanach Dhuin” plus “Cill Aodain” are still included in schools curriculum. English translations of his poems were published by James Stephens in his volume “Reincarnations.” [iv] Rafterai first lines of his Mise Rafterai were inscribed on 5 pound Irish banknotes notes. [v] Raifteri is mentioned by Liam Devlin, an Irish freedom fighter in the 1975 novel “The Eagle Has Landed” by Jack Higgins. [vi] Yeats mentioned Raifteri in “Dust hath Close Helen’s Eyes” Celtic Twilight 1902 [vii] Brian Oswald Donn wrote a Biographical novel called “Blind Raftery and his wife Hilaria” during 1924.
There is a Granite Memorial to the poet erected in 1985 on the town square of Kiltimagh produced by artist Sally Mc Kenna. There is also a poem by poet Terry Mc Donagh nearby. A Sculpture of the poet is in the Village Green of Craughwell. [viii]
During 2011 a documentary on his life was produced by Sonta Teo for TG4. Loughrea, Co. Galway hosts an annual festival on last weekend of March. It features a contemporary Irish poet who promotes the native arts of Ireland. The festival called Feile Raifteri ends with a visit to Raifteri’s grave. During 1983 Scoil Raftery was founded in Castlebar, Co. Mayo, Raftery Close in the Ballymagroarty Estate is also named in his honour. [ix]
Mise Raiftearaí an file,
Lán dóchas ‘s grá,
Le súile gan solas,
Le ciúnas gan crá…
Féach anois mé
Is mo chúl le balla
Ag seimn ceoil
Do phócaí folamh.