Antoine Ó Raifteirí (also Antoine Ó Reachtabhra, English: Anthony Raftery) was an Irish language poet who is often called the last of the wandering bards.
Anthony Raftery was born in Killedan, near Kiltimagh in County Mayo. His father was a weaver. He had come to Killedan from County Sligo to work for the local landlord, Frank Taaffe. Raftery's mother was a Brennan from the Kiltimagh area. She and her husband had nine children. Anthony was an intelligent and inquisitive child. Some time between 1785 and 1788, Anthony Raftery's life took a huge turn after he and his siblings had contracted smallpox. Within three weeks, eight of the nine children had died. One of the last things young Raftery saw before going blind was his eight siblings laid out dead on the floor.
As Raftery's father was a weaver, he had not experienced the worst of that era's poverty, but it would be much more difficult for his son to escape hardship. He lived by playing his fiddle and performing his songs and poems in the mansions of the Anglo-Irish gentry. His work draws on the forms and idiom of Irish poetry, and although it is conventionally regarded as marking the end of the old literary tradition, Raftery and his fellow poets did not see themselves in this way.
In common with earlier poets, Raftery had a patron in Taffe. One night Frank sent a servant to get more drink for the house. The servant took Raftery with him, both of them on one of Franks' good horses. Whatever the cause (said to be speeding) Raftery's horse left the road and ended up in the bog, drowned or with a broken neck. Frank banished Raftery and he commenced the life of an itinerant. According to An Craoibhín (Douglas Hyde) one version of the story is that Raftery wrote Cill Aodáin (as DH Kileadan, County Mayo, his most famous work apart from Anach Cuan, to get back in Frank Taffe's good books. Taffe however was displeased at the awkward way Raftery worked his name into the poem, and then only at the end. Another version has it that Raftery wrote this poem in competition to win a bet as to who could praise their own place best. When he finished reciting the poem his competitor is reported to have said "Bad luck to you Raftery, you have left nothing at all for the people of Galway" and refused to recite his own poem.
None of his poems were written down during the poet's lifetime, but they were collected from those he taught them to by Douglas Hyde, Lady Gregory and others, who later published them. Raftery was lithe and spare in build and not very tall but he was very strong and considered a good wrestler. He always wore a long frieze coat and corduroy breeches.
Ó Raifteiri died at the house of Diarmuid Cloonan of Kileeneen, near Craughwell, County Galway, and was buried in nearby Kileeneen Cemetery. In 1900, Lady Gregory, Edward Martyn, and W.B. Yeats erected a memorial stone over his grave, bearing the inscription "RAFTERY". A statue of him stands in the village green, Craughwell, opposite Cawley's pub.
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