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Mike Rafferty (1926–2011) grew up on a farm in the townland of Larraga in the musical parish of Ballinakill, where he learned his music from his father Tom, a blind flute player and uilleann piper. Mike arrived in New York from Ireland in 1949 and moved across the Hudson to New Jersey, where he and his wife Terry would raise five children. In the 1950s and 1960s, Mike’s music making was largely confined to the home, but sessions in the Rafferty basement were legendary. Button accordionist Joe Burke was a frequent visitor. A dent in the ceiling marked the spot where dancer and flute player Michael Flatley elevated a bit too high during one of many musical parties.

Mike returned to public performance in the 1970s and was another of the senior New York musicians brought to festival stages by Mick Moloney. He was also an active music teacher at home and at the Catskills Irish Arts Week, and enthusiastic supporter of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, which named a New Jersey branch for him. After many years playing a silver flute, Mike acquired a new wooden model from maker Patrick Olwell, which allowed him to reacquire the old-time traditional tone and timbre. In retirement, he recorded an outstanding series of privately released recordings. On three of these CDs, Mike was joined by his flute and accordion playing daughter Mary, on another by fiddler Willie Kelly, and on 2004’s Speed 78 by Kelly and button accordionist Joe Madden. In 2010, he was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship.

Mike’s wife Teresa faithfully videotaped the many house sessions in the Rafferty basement as well as performances by Mike and other musicians at festivals and concerts. Teresa’s video trove, which has been digitised and made available to the Irish Traditional Music Archive, has been one of the most important sources of live recordings used in this online exhibit.

  • Tony Molloy's, jig ; Tullamore harbour, jig / Willie Kelly, fiddle ; Mike Rafferty, flute ; Dónal Clancy, guitar