Mike Rafferty is one of the great exponents of the old lyrical and flowing flute playing style from the East Galway region of Ireland. He was born in 1926 in the village of Larraga in Ballinakill parish, in the heart of a locality filled with great flute and fiddle players. Early on Mike learned much of his music from his father, Tom “Barrel” Rafferty, a flute player and piper, and from neighbors Tom Broderick and Jack Coughlan. He also listened to the renowned Ballinakill Ceili Band, which included flute players Stephen Moloney and Tommy Whelan, as they achieved national prominence through their radio broadcasts and 78rpm recordings. In 1949 Mike emigrated to the United States, where he has lived since. He has performed at concerts and festivals throughout the country over the past 25 years including the Smithsonian’s Bicentennial Festival in 1976. He has also taught at the Swannanoa Gathering in North Carolina, the Augusta Heritage Center in West Virginia, and at Boxwood (school for traditional flute) in Nova Scotia.
Mike has released four recordings over the past six years: “The Dangerous Reel,” “The Old Fireside Music,” “The Road from Ballinakill,” and “Speed 78.” Mike Rafferty has devoted a lifetime to exploring, performing, and teaching traditional Irish music and has inspired many of today’s leading Irish musicians on both sides of the Atlantic.
—Mike Casey (Flute and guitar player Mike Casey, who has researched East Galway music for many years, currently works at the Archives of Traditional Music at Indiana University.)
I met Mike Rafferty for the first time at the annual Boxwood flute festival in the summer of 2001 where he was one of the featured faculty members. Mike Casey had met Mike R. a few times over the years, but it was also at Boxwood 2001—where Mike C. assisted Mike R. with his classes—that the two really had the opportunity to get to know one another. I was at Boxwood as a student, and had the great pleasure of spending a lot of time with Mike and Teresa Rafferty during the week. The two Mikes worked well as a teaching team, and in July 2002, had the chance to work together again during “Celtic Week” of the Swannanoa Gathering, held at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina, USA. I took the opportunity to drive over from Tennessee to visit, share some tunes, and conduct this interview jointly with Mike Casey.
The interview took place on July 7, 2002, on the campus of Warren Wilson College. Mike Casey and I transcribed it, and have edited it somewhat from the original to improve readability. Our editorial changes have mostly involved shortening the overall interview and tightening up some passages. We’ve done a bit of re-ordering of material in cases where the same topic came up at different times during our conversation. Mike Rafferty read over a draft of the edited interview and clarified several points for us. Thanks to Brad Hurley for agreeing to post this interview on this Web site for the benefit of other flute players.
Many thanks also to Mike Rafferty for his cooperation in doing this interview and for his patience during the long process of transcribing and editing…and, of course, for sharing his music with us! I know that I speak for both Mike Casey and myself when I say that it has been an enormous privilege to get to know and to have the occasional “session of music” with “The Great Rafferty.”
—Paul Wells( Paul Wells is a fiddler, flute player, folklorist, and former (retired) director of the Center for Popular Musicat Middle Tennessee State University.)
Note: Because this interview is longer than most others on the site, it’s broken into several sections for easier browsing online. If you want to print or save the interview for reading offline, download the PDF version.
Part 1: Family and Home. Mike describes the East Galway village where he grew up, and the music and musicians he heard.
Part 2: Learning to Play. Mike’s first flute, how he learned to play, and where he played.
Part 3: From Galway to America. Mike talks about his emigration to New York, the ebb and flow of the music scene there, and the rekindling of his passion for Irish music and the flute.
Part 4: East Galway Music. Mike describes the special qualities of East Galway music and how it differs from other regional styles.