TADHG MACDONNAGÁIN, the An Spidéal-based author, publisher, broadcaster, and singer-songwriter has won the Gradam Uí Shúilleabháin Award, the premier prize for writing as Gaeilge, for his biography of the itinerant poet Raiftearaí.
Antoine Raiftearaí was known to generations of schoolchildren for his most famous poem, 'Mise Raiftearaí an file'. He is associated with the Craughwell area of County Galway, where a statue of him still stands. His grave is also still intact in Killeeneen Cemetery. However Mac Dhonnagáin's book, Mise Raiftearaí an Fíodóir Focal, is a major attempt at understanding the flesh and blood man behind that famous poem.
Mac Dhonnagáin, who was presented with the Gradam Uí Shúilleabháin Award at a ceremony in Dublin, traces Raiftearaí's life from his birth in a weaver’s cottage in Cill Liadáin, Kiltimagh, in 1779, to his death in a stable near Craughwell in 1835. He was blinded at the age of five by an outbreak of smallpox, which also killed his eight siblings. In early adulthood, he left Mayo and spent his adult life wandering east Galway, writing imaginative poetry and love songs to women, verse in praise of champion boxers, skilled weavers, and those who gave him a bed for the night.
A political radical, he supported the Ribbonmen's campaign against landlords, as well as Daniel O’Connell's campaign for parliamentary and political reform. He was also engaged in public mudslinging with anyone who dared question his status as the 'spokesman of the people'.
Mise Raiftearaí an Fíodóir Focal evolved from the script of a TV docudrama of the same name, written and presented by Mac Dhonnagáin and broadcast on TG4 in 2010. "When I came to write the book, I wanted to produce an account that was faithful to historical fact," he said, "but at the same time depicted Raiftearaí’s journey in the same way as the TV film, by recreating key scenes from his life and imagining how each character acted and reacted to the events they were dealing with."
Mise Raiftearaí an Fíodóir Focal is published by the An Spidéal based company Futa Fata, and is widely available at bookshops and through www.futafata.ie