Antaine Ó Raifteirí (Anthony Raftery) was an Irish language poet who is considered one of the last wandering poets; these bards having played a central role in Irish culture for centuries. Born in Mayo in 1779 he died in East Galway in the 1830s. His poems and songs are amongst the most important literary works created in the Irish language in this pre-Famine period. The first festival that celebrated the life and works of Raifteirí was held in 1902 when Douglas Hyde, Lady Augusta Gregory, W.B. Yeats and other followers of the Celtic Literary Revival gathered at the graveside of the poet near Craughwell in County Galway. By this time, more than 65 years after his death, Raifteirí had become somewhat of a folklore legend and various gatherings were held over the years in his memory. Although blind and never writing any of his work, his songs and poetry survived in the memory of Irish speakers, continue to be sung by traditional singersand today he is recognized as a national cultural figure.
GaeilgeLochaRiach took up the mantel to celebrate Raifteiríin 2005, aiming to celebrate the various traits of this extremely interesting character as an Irish speaker, a poet, a musician, a social commentator and a political activist. His poetry gives us an insight into the historical activities of his time from political agitation to support for the quest for Catholic emancipation, one of his poems recounting the entire history of the country as he converses with a Hawthorn tree.He sang the praises of countless women in his poetry yet never composed a poem for his wife. He delved into the depths of his spirituality yet conversed with whiskey and had a strong relationship with drink. These are just some of the elements which make Raifteirí’ssongs and poetry so rich.
Under the patronage of GaeilgeLochaRiach the organisers of FéileRaifteirí have attracted poets such as Gabriel Rosenstock, Séamas Barra Ó Súilleabháin and Louis De Paor and musicians such as Breandán Ó Beaglaoich, Joe Burke, Martin Hayes and the Ó Snodaigh’s of Kíla fame. The festival’s events have included lectures, poetry workshops, poetry competitions, guided tours, concerts and much more. Even in 2020 with the Covid pandemic a blend of online events, competitions and outdoor activities held in line with Government guidance allowed the organising committee to maintain their annual celebration of all things Raifteirí.
This month the Festival, sponsored by ForasnaGaeilge will take place from November 22nd until 27th. The theme for this year’s event is ‘Mo BhealachFéin’ (This Way of Mine). Poets (under 18 and over 18) have until November 21st to write poems on this theme. The winners will be presented with the ‘SceachGheal’ (Hawthorn Tree sculpture). Seamus Mac Annaidh will be online on the 23rd November to discuss the classic novel ‘Mo BhealachFéin’ written by Donegal writer Seosamh Mac Grianna. On the 25th November Dónal Ó Braonáinwill be online and share excerpts from the rich RaidiónaGaeltachta archives which relate to Antaine Ó Raifteirí.
The highlight of the festival will take place on Saturday, 27th November, with a musical and poetry brunch taking place in the SlieveAughty Centre, Kylebrack, Loughrea. The centre’s beautiful setting will allow us to run the event indoors and outdoors. The morning will begin with a radio show being broadcast from the centre at 9am on Loughrea Community Radio. Guests are then invited to attend from 10.30 with a short talk from Dónal Ó Braonáin on Raifteirí’s relationship with poitín. This will be followed by music with traditional sean-nós singer MairéadNíFhlatharta, the announcement of poetry winners and a complimentary brunch. Following the brunch attendees are invited to take a walk in the Kylebrack Woods in Slieve Aughty.