Mike was born in 1926. He grew up in Ballinakill, East Galway in the heart of a locality steeped in the very best of old-style traditional music. Mike is an outstanding exponent of the East Galway style of flute playing. He learned his music from his father, Tom "Barrel" who played flute and uilleann pipes. Mike emigrated to the United States in 1949 and has appeared at an extensive array of concerts and festivals all over America including the Smithsonian Institution's Bicentennial Festival of American Folklife in 1976 and toured with the Green Fields of America. Mike has appeared on many recordings and has recorded albums with his daughter Mary; "The Dangerous Reel", "The Old Fireside Music", "The Road from Ballinakill", "Hand Me Downs" and most recently, December 2004, his solo CD "Speed 78". Mike has devoted a lifetime to exploring, performing and teaching traditional Irish music on both sides of the Atlantic. Recently, he was named Irish Echo's Traditional Musician of the Year.
"Speed 78" Review by Paul Keating, Irish Voice:
THE Irish road sign outside the house in New Jersey leads you towards the driveway and the side entrance to one of the more impressive Irish music repositories you will find anywhere.
A descent down the stairs to the basement lair of the resident Galwegian will transport you back to Ballinakill in East Galway, Ireland where traditional music has a fertile history. Inside the music room is a sea of tapes all documenting one of the richest treasure troves of traditional music in all formats (audio and video) in Irish America, lovingly produced by Terry and Mike Rafferty.
More importantly, it is a living archive because the flute, whistle and uilleann pipe player Mike Rafferty has a fervent mission to keep as many tunes above ground as he can by either playing them himself, or encouraging others to do so before they are lost like so many fine musicians of yore.
Since his retirement in 1989, few have been more prominent in teaching or playing and more popular in promoting the pure drop trad music that epitomizes the East Galway region where he grew up.
Joe Burke, the great Galway accordion player and friend of Rafferty once told me that Mike's music was special because he held onto that style and the tunes that conveyed the essence of the music around those parts.
The more leisurely days have inspired him to seek out the old tunes that he learned directly from his father Tom "Barrel" Rafferty, whose own devotion to Irish music on the flute and uilleann pipes overcame many physical handicaps like blindness and the loss of his teeth.
Today's more accessible technology (though Mike still swears by the basic cassette tape recorder as his mode of capturing tunes to learn and enjoy) has allowed him to share this journey back to yesteryear on three albums with his daughter Mary (Mike and Mary Rafferty, 1995; The Old Fireside Music, 1998; The Road to Ballinakill, 2001.)
Playing as well as ever, Mike Rafferty has produced another recording in that vein entitled Speed 78 which is an inspired title. The CD jacket contains a photo of a well-worn 78 vinyl recording of the Ballinakill Ceili Band featuring the Shaskeen and Green Blanket, two familiar reels of the famed ensemble still popular today and played with great respect here by Rafferty as well.
The 78-year-old master is no fan of fast music so common today, and this CD will be further testament to his argument that the music is to be savored and enjoyed without rushing through it.
Joining him on his "solo" CD are musicals friends Joe Madden, Willie Kelly and Felix Dolan, along with his box-playing daughter Mary. Her husband Donal Clancy co-produced and recorded the selections, fittingly enough, in the Rafferty's home where so many historic sessions have been held over the years.
Anyone who has spent time in Mike Rafferty's company as he delivered tunes and spun vivid yarns will appreciate the brilliant inclusion of stories as well about his mother, Kathleen, and father, Tom and how, each in their own way, instilled this life-long love for traditional music.
Though Mike may have emigrated in 1949, his music brings us back to those earlier days. It is as if he never left the parish of Ballinakill and we are welcome visitors to that Rafferty fireside whether we arrived by cycle, shank's mare, the automobile or our audio vehicle of choice.