Interview with Mike Rafferty, Part 1: Family and Home
Mike Casey [MC]: Mike, what is the name of the village that you grew up in?
Mike Rafferty [MR]: Larraga. That’s the village, and then the post office would be Kylebrack. Kylebrack is [on] the borderline of the parish of Leitrim and Ballinakill. If you were going [on the] road from Loughrea to Woodford, well you’d be then about five miles from Woodford, and, say, about a mile off of that road would be Larraga. Ah sure there was a house here, and was another house maybe a couple of fields away, and they’d be small fields, if you will. That’s about it. Just…let me think, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven….I remember seven houses in my time. It’s not much but at one point there was seven families of Raffertys there. All Raffertys! And if a stranger came in he’d be afraid to say anything because…“Are ye all related, or what?” And now there’s nothing, only old ruins, and some of them old ruins were taken away for…because they’re building so many new houses there. You can’t even find the ruins any more. It’s all leveled out.
Paul Wells [PW]: Ballinakill is a parish?
MR: Ballinakill is a parish. There were only two pubs. There was no town. At one time there were three grocery stores. You know, small little shops as they call them over there. And they’d have the tea and sugar. And there was no such thing as going into the store and buying potatoes, you grew them around there, you know, except in the town you’d buy them that way. You had your own cabbage, and your own vegetables, if you will. And your own milk, and made your own butter, that’d be the small farms. Sometimes you had to buy butter. But it depends on how many cows you were able to keep on the land.
PW: What year were you born, Mike?
PW: How big a family was it?
MR: Seven. I was the fourth. The three boys were older than me, and the three girls younger.
PW: What did your dad do for a living?
MR: He was a farmer, a small farmer. Very small at that, yeah. And then he lost his eyesight, [because of] cataracts. Well, there was no cure for it at that time. He went to what they call a quack doctor over there, he was supposed to have a cure, [but] nothing helped. I remember him when he had a little eyesight.
PW: That must have been tough when he lost it, if he was a farmer.
MR: It was tough, yeah. We were all young at the time. It was tough enough, yes. My mother used to do the [work], and then my brothers, they grew up….
Music in the Home
MC: Was there music in your house, when you grew up?
MR: A lot of music, yeah, yeah. They used to come to listen to my father, there. A guy by the name of Son Donnelly, you might have heard of him, one of the great flute players. And a great whistle player as well. I don’t think there was anything to equal him. He had a great fingering style, and the tone he got out of the flute was great.
PW: Your father was a flute player?
MR: Yes. His name was Tom, Thomas. I don’t know where he got his music, now. There’s no history of my grandfather playing. Although my father’s cousin was a nice fiddle player. And I guess they kind of inspired each other, in their younger days. And there was a guy, another flute player, Tom Broderick. And the two of them, they used to play at benefits and house dances in them days. They were known as “The Two Toms.” My father got a great tone out of the flute and people thought it was wind, and they said he could fill a barrel with wind, and that is how he got the nickname “Barrel.”
MC: So musicians used to come to hear your dad play?
MR: Oh [they’d] come into the house and have a session of music! There was a gentleman who played the fiddle, up the road, a young man, he was maybe a couple of years older than me, he’d come in regular and we’d have a tune. My father wasn’t playing much at this time. But before that they used to come. A fella by the name of Jack Coughlan…Jack used to come to the house. They’d listen to him. And then as I was growin’ up, the two of us, we’d have two tin whistles. And there was a couple of house dances at the house, and that was the music, the two tin whistles. And everybody had an ear for it. We played pretty well together, you know, the note-for-note kind of thing. And if it wasn’t I’d get a tongue-lashing for it too, mind you, sometimes. But it was a friendly sort of thing.
PW: That was you and your father, playing two whistles?
MR: Yeah, just the two of us. There were no guitars at the time, and there were no accordions.
MC: Do you remember when you first started playing music?
MR: I do, I very well do, because my uncle, Packie Moloney, was [at the house]. I used to bite the whistle, the old Clarke C and Packie seen me doing that. “Don’t do that!” he says, “learn how to play it.” And he showed me a few notes, and I was playing a little bit of “The Wearing of the Green.” And that’s what started me off. And there was no biting on the whistle any more. And then my father took me over from that. I was about eight years old.
PW: What was the tune you said you started on?
MR: “The Wearing of the Green,” yeah. And I think the other one was “I Have a Bonnet Trimmed with Blue.” Yeah, them two marches. Then the next tune I remember I learned was “The Walls of Liscarroll,” and that was a tough jig! But that was the tune he taught me. I don’t know how long it took me, but it was a little section at a time, and I’d go out in the field and practice that, and then come back and get the other piece. It was every night, or every evening, you know, if he’d be in the mood.