Friday, October 03, 2014

More on the living legacy of Blind Raftery

Anthony Raftery's grave at Killeeneen, near Craughwell

I recently posted a thought about the need to use cultural heritage in creating new cultural products. I did so using an example from my personal cultural heritage, an ancestor called Blind Raftery.

Here is a poem by my Grandmother's brother, John Patrick Raftery, from his book. Raftery's Poems: Songs of Life, Love and Liberty. He too was descended from Blind Raftery.


In fancy I am roaming now, where the hills are smiling down
On gabled roofs and streets I loved, dear old Claremorris town;
And all the tender thoughts of years come rushing back today,
To one who here in exile dreams, four thousand miles away.
Four thousand miles from Sweet Mayo, the ocean waves between,
My spirit ship a-gliding o'er to hills and valleys green,
To lake and stream and woodland sweet and bogs of purpl'd brown,
I see them all a-stretching out from dear old Claremorris town.

0, memory, good, kind, trusty friend, untrue you've never been.
With brush of skill you paint at will my boyhood paths again.
Once more I roam round home, sweet home, a happy, care-free boy,
When life was one long golden hour of bliss, fond hope and joy. ,
I'm passing now by Mophill lake, I he road leads to Brookhill;
I cross o'er meadow, dale and brake and out by Donlon's mill
And on thro' Tubber alley dark and up each slight incline
'Till now I stand upon the hill overlooking old Crossboyne.

From here the winding Robe rolls on, a silvery streak through green,
Then 'cross the sweep of purple moor, meandering by Tauheen,
Thru PuUaweela, dear old spot, by Hollymount to go.
0, fain would I just follow on its course through Sweet Mayo.
But I must with my wandering soul keep to the well-known track.
By Hamilton's green vine clad cot to Ballindine, then back
Thro' wood and moor until I reach where smiling hills look down
Upon the streets my boyhood knew, dear old Claremorris town.

My spirit still a-journeying on to holy Knock I go,
O'er six long miles of hill and dale, each footstep well I know.
By Gastlegar and Reaney's mill, the road to Ballinsmall,
Ballybreheany lake and Loughnamon, Barnacarroll, Rockfield— all.
0, sure, the places come so fast, e'en thro' the lapse of years,
Who wonders that the exile's eyes are now bedimmed with tears,
But thro' their mist I see again the green hills smiling down
Upon the spot I e'er will love, dear, dear Claremorris town.

I'm roaming now up Killeen hill, Kilbeg looms into view.
The old bogroad, next comes Drumkeen, then Ballygowan, too,
And then beyond the railroad bridge, one fork leads to Kylemore,
The other on thro' Meelick, then Gloonconnor hill, Asthore.
From here the workhouse I can see and also sweet Brookhill,
The glistening lake between them both, its waters calm and still.
And again the picture greets my eyes of green hills smiling down
Upon the streets and gabled roofs of dear Claremorris town.

In fancy I the longing feel that comes o'er me, you know.
To see again in all its bloom the old fort at Arflroe,
To drink a draught of purest air, perfumed by hawthorn sweet.
And gaze enrapt at miles of moor, enpurpling at my feet,
Bohergarra lake, Mayfield beyond, then Carrasteelaun hill.
0, wonder not those pictured scenes my eyes with sad tears fill,
That with blest St. Michael's on the mount like angels e'er smile down
Upon the streets my boyhood loved, dear, dear Claremorris town.

To Mount street I send my best wish, my heart's love to the Square,
A kiss I send to James street, 0, would that I were there.
To Church street, where I went to school, I send a heart felt sigh,
I wish that I could lapse the past and once more be a boy.
But, ah, friends, sure that cannot be; life now must run its span,
But ore I die I hope to see where my life's path first began,
And tread once more those emerald hills that smilingly look down
On streets and homes my boyhood knew in loved Claremorris town.

—May, 1912.

Compare this with what is described as a rough translation of the lyrics of Anthony Raftery's song Cill Aodain.

Now coming of the Spring, the day will be lengthening,
And after St. Bridget's Day, I shall raise my sail.
Since it entered my head I won't stay still
Until I shall stand down in the center of County Mayo.
In Claremorris I will be for the first night,
And in Balla down below it, I'll begin to drink.
To Kiltimagh I'll go and spend a month’s visit there
Two miles close to Ballina.

I swear to you my heart's uplifted
Like the rising wind or the drifting fog
When I think of Ceara or Gailleang behind it
Of Milebush or the plains of Mayo.
Cill Aodáin's the town where everything grows,
There's berries and raspberries, and respect for all
If only I was standing in the midst of my people
The years would roll from me and I'd be young again!

I don't know whether John Patrick Raftery knew of this poem (which was included in Douglas Hyde's Songs Attributed to Raftery published in 1903) but it seems likely to me that he would have been. Alternatively he might have heard Cill Aodain as a boy in Claremorris. In any case, I can see a relation between the two poems, written a century apart.

Here is a video with a beautiful version of the song. And here is a book by Terry McDonagh titled Cill Aodáin & nowhere else in which he describes as offering "tribute to the great Anthony Raftery of his home place".

Again, I love the living legacy of Blind Raftery, echoed in the work of poets and musicians long after his death, and long after he was almost lost to history.

No comments: