National Museum iCAN: Riocard Bairéad Ireland VIEW SOURCE
The Poet of Erris1740

Riocard Bairéad 1740

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Riocard Bairéad aka Richard Barrett (1740 –1819) was a United Irishman and poet, known in his lifetime as the Poet of Erris. (He was also known locally as Dící or Dick Buiréad).

Born in 1739 or 1740 in in the village of Barrack on the Mullet peninsula, Bairéad worked as a small farmer and teacher in the local hedge school. He married twice, first to Nancy Tollet then to Máire Ní Mhóráin. After his marriage to Nancy he moved to a small cottage and five-acre farm in Carna where he spent the rest of his life. With Máire he had two children, Mary and Richard Barrett. Bairéad spent his life in Erris. His only foray outside the barony was for three months imprisonment in Castlebar Gaol after the United Irishmen rising of 1798. 

According to local folklore, he played an important role in the Rebellion of 1798 when a French expeditionary force under General Humbert landed in County Mayo to support the United Irishmen. (The rebellion ended in failure, despite some early victories over the English forces, most notably when the redcoats took flight before the pike-wielding men from Belmullet and other Erris villages in a battle that became known as "the Races of Castlebar"). However, Bairéad was indicted for incitement rather than for taking part in the rebellion, which helps account for his relatively light sentence.

As the role he played in the Society of United Irishmen that mounted this uprising, Bairéad was notable for his verse and songs in Irish (Gaelic) as well. Riocard Bairéad was a satirist, his style much influenced by Dean Jonathan Swift. The ballad, "The Men of The West", was set to Bairéad's air of "Eoghan Coir" at the time of the 1798 Rebellion centenary commemorations. Several poetry pieces have survived despite his second wife’s burning of some material following his demise as she considered his political work worthless.

  • Eoghan Cóir (Conway) was a dreaded landlord’s agent, noted for his cruelty to tenants. Bairéad was spurred to write the poem after Conway duped an impoverished couple who could not afford to pay the rent. Dressed in tattered rages Eoghan Cóir visited the couple who provided the ‘beggar man’ with lodgings for the night. By morning he had fled with their few animals. Swift’s satirical style, as exemplified in the poem, ‘Eoghan Cóir’ lavishes false praise on his subject (instead of ridiculing him).
  • ‘Tarraingt na Móna’ provides an insight into the meitheal system of cooperation which then existed in Erris. One autumn day Riocard was preparing ground for a turf stack when the local landlord, Major Bingham, passing by, commented: “It’s not with songs you’ll turf that Barrette.” Bairéad sent an appeal for help to his friends and neighbours who rallied round and ensured he was warm for the winter.
  • Preab san Ól’, his most famous poem, is a rollicking drinking song which sums up his merry philosophy of life. 

Though isolated, Erris was becoming better known by the early 19th century. It was fashionable then for English travel writers to visit remote places and many of them found their way to Erris where they usually met with Riocard Bairéad. One of them, J B Trotter, provided a pen portrait of the poet:

“He is a fine old man, between 70 and 80 years of age, modest, of conciliating manners, having the deportment of a plain English country gentleman, with all the mildness of polished life. His conversation was sensible and the vivacity of the poet often broke out.”
Patrick Knight was probably the visitor who knew him best. He worked as an engineer in Erris in the early 19th century and designed the town of Belmullet. His book, ‘Erris in the Irish Highlands’, published in 1836, is the first comprehensive account of the barony.
He described Bairéad as a “real genius”... “Sweet, correct, mellifluous in his language and verse, his songs were sung and listened to by everyone who understood the beauties of their native language, with the pleasurable feeling that a remnant of the bards of old had yet survived in Ireland.” However, he dreaded the “eye of criticism” and was reluctant to show his work to outsiders. Knight managed to collect several versions of his poems and songs which he presented to the Royal Irish Academy.     SOURCE Fr Kevin Hegarty (Mayo News 2009)

The Poet of Erris died either in 1818 or on December 8 or 18th, 1819 and is interred at Cross graveyard (just west of Belmullet) with his grave looking out towards Inis Gluaire. The poem ‘Preab san Ól’ was engraved on his tombstone, and at one point read:

Why spend your leisure bereft of pleasure / Amassing treasure? Why scrape and save? / Why look so canny at every penny? / You’ll take no money into the grave. 

His grave fell into a bad state of disrepair (and nearly lost to the Atlantic Ocean after a wild storm in 1996). However, the cemetery wall has since been repaired, and the poet's remains re-interred by well-wishers from the town of Belmullet.

Summer life in Ireland is decorated by schools in honour of Irish writers. The Gael-linn Irish summer college, Coláiste Riocard Bairéad is named for him. 



Rugadh Riocard Bairéad, an file, 'sa mbliadhain seacht gcéad déag naoi mbliadhna fichead, ins an mbaile a nglaoidhtear Bearaic air, sé mhíle ó Bhéal an Mhuirthid. Togha sgoláire bhí ann. Thiocfadh leis ceithre nó cúig cinn de theangthacha a labhairt agus a mhúineadh. Ar an ádhbhar sin bhí sé ina mháighistir sgoile ag tabhairt oidis do chloinn mhór-uaisle na tíre a thiocfadh chuige. Phós sé bean a dtugthaoi Nancy Tallot uirthi. Inghean duine uasail b'eadh í. Badh é an chaoi ar imthigheadar le chéile as teach damhsa, agus bhí a hathair, Seághan Tallot, ar an Talach le báinidhe faoi'n inghin imtheacht leis. Rugadh beirt inghean dóibh, agus phós bean aca cosantóir cuan agus caladh, agus bhíodar ina gcomhnaidhe ar an gClochán Liath, i nDún na nGall tamall gearr ó shoin. Bhí sé timcheall cúig troighthe agus ocht n-órlaigh ar áirde,teann, agus gruag fhionn air. D'athruigh sé a áit chomhnaidhthe ó Bhearaic go Cárn, agus chomhnuigh sé annsin nó go bhfuair sé bás, ar an ochtmhadh lá de Mhí na Nodlag, 1819. Adhlacadh é i Mainistir na Croise agus suim bliadhanta ó shoin thóig an t-Athair Pádraig Ó Raghallaigh leacht os a chionn agus feart laoi i nGeadhilg air. Feictí a theach ar an gCárn go dtí an bhliadhain 1865. Teach ceann-tuighe cluthmhar bhí ann, dá nó trí sheomra ann, agus gáirdín deas bláthmhar amach ar a aghaidh. Bhí sé ina fhile chumasach, éigeantach gan aimhreas. [Conradh na Gaeilge 1906]

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Margaret Tollet (1845-1921) Miner's Mills PA, USA


Additional Information
Date of Birth 1st Jan 1740 (circa)
Associated Building (s) Castlebar Old Gaol Old Cross Cemetery BELMULLET Barrack Village BELMULLET  
Mother (First Name/s and Maiden)
Father (First Name/s and Surname) Eamonn Bairead aka Edmund Barrett (1710-1791)
Townland born Barrack, near Ely Bay in Belmullet, Co. Mayo. VIEW SOURCE
Place & Date of Baptism
Names of Siblings
Spouse (First Name/s and Maiden/Surname) First: Nancy Tollet, a daughter of Sean Tollett of Moyrane, a prosperous Protestant Landowner.
Spouse (First Name/s and Maiden/Surname) Second: Máire Ní Mhóráin aka Moira or Mary Moran
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