Rapairi on TG4

By Lisa Marie Griffith

10111The first of TG4’s new series ‘Rapairi’, an examination of  Irish outlaws from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, aired last night. The opening show made ambitious claims. The show aims to look at 6 outlaws, tories and raparees as they were referred to in the proclamations of the day, their lives and to establish the reality behind the folklore. It also aims to examine why Irish people are disrespectful to the law. As a social historian of the eighteenth century I have often come across ‘tories and raparees’ in my research. These are men who are on the run, have skipped a court hearing, have escaped from jail and who are known and wanted criminals. Many of these men went into hiding, escaped to rural Ireland and lived like bandits and the term basically described villains and criminals. TG4, however, chose to focus on the raparee heroes of early modern Ireland- gentlemen who had been pushed outside the law because of some injustice that they had suffered.

I will have to admit I was a little bemused by TG4’s twenty-first century version of a raparee; the Rossport 5. Interspersed with their attempt to explain what an early-modern raparee was the programme had clips of the Rossport 5 outside court and anti-Shell-protests. The Rossport 5 were supposed to symbolise these heroes outside the boundaries of the law and the natural impulse that Irish people have to rebelling against legal authority and court rulings. The simple explanation for our temptation to resist the law was of course that for centuries the Irish had resisted and rebelled against British rule in Ireland.

I abhor attempts to try and explain away historic events or actions by an over-simplified comparison to what the producer sees as a twentieth century equivalent.While I understand that the producers were short on time (just thirty minutes to cover all of their above-stated aims) simply omitting comparison in favour of an actual definition of a raparee would have been the more sensible option. Indeed, an explanation of how a raparee differed from the medieval and sixteenth-century Irish who defended their land holdings from the encroaching colonising English would have been helpful.

The opening programme focused on Douglas Costello, an anglo-norman descendent who had been granted lands in Mayo. Costello’s family had, over the previous decades, lost more and more of their land to the neighbouring gentry-family, the Dillons. When the 1640 rebellion broke out Costello defended and fought for Charles I, leaving for the continent when the Confederates fled. During the restoration Costello returned to Ireland with ambitions of having his lands restored only to discover the remainder of his land in Mayo had been given to his local enemies the Dillons.

The programme does not explain, however, that Costello was not the only spurned man in Ireland when the land commission sat in the early 1660s. Indeed, the lord lieutenant, the Duke of Ormonde was heard to have claimed you would need ten Ireland’s to appease all of the people who had been promised land in Ireland. This is seen as a major betrayal and victimisation of Costello when it was in fact a common problem across the country.

The programme ended by upholding the highly dubious story of Costello’s second generation, his son smuggled to Ulster Costello junior was apparently a skilled hurling player- can this be right?

The programme was informative in points but lost a lot of credibility by the twenty-first century comparisons which as far as I am concerned were a waste of time and fed into the producers own political interest rather than being of any real relevance.

It remains to be seen over the course of the next 5 weeks if they can add any thing to the argument of why twenty-first century Irish people are not law abiding other than ‘we were once a colonised nation…’

Rapairi continues on TG4 next week, Thursday 19th, at 10.00 pm.

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7 Responses to “Rapairi on TG4”

  1. Kathleen Says:

    I didn’t see the programme, but I sympathise with your perspective, Lisa – the Rossport 5 make a truly bizarre ‘modern equivalent’. Unless they have turned to cutting folks’ tongues out and I just missed that day’s news, which is always possible.

  2. Anonymous Says:

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  3. Ruairí O'Brien Says:


    you or anyone who is reading should research and read the well-written and researched” Irish Highwaymen”, a balanced account of Irish raparees, often Robin-Hood types (they had to be in order to not get caught, plus they genuinely hated oppression and loss of property) and also an account of killers and ugly characters.

    It is impossible for someone to flesh out in 30 minutes what, perhaps, they hoped to achieve in referring to Bellanaboy. But considering that the prime minister of Norway publicly stated that such an on-land project would never have been actioned ‘against’ the people of Norway, against their wishes, it does merit further investigation and biting of the tongue in order that they expand on that narrative in later episodes.

    This series is long-overdue as the reputations of Irish highwaymen far exceeded (across England and Europe) that of Dick Turpin.

  4. puesoccurrences Says:

    Hi Ruairí,

    Thanks for the suggestion- I will certainly track it down as it’s an interesting suggestion. I would agree the programme is long over due and it is a great topic.

    I have absolutely no problem with the rest of the programme I was just disappointed that they came down to explaining quite a complex term as ‘raparee’ as the Rossport 5. I don’t think that it is an accurate comparison.

    The term ‘raparee’ was a broad one used to describe honourable me who have been denied justice but more often then that it was used to described on the run criminals who had carried out very violent crimes, not just crimes against property. They terrorised rural communities, robbing from them to survive. It is not just a romantic term. I have read eighteenth century newspapers extensively for my PhD so I have across accounts of the real damage that some of these men did. I don’t think that was explained. 30 minutes is certainly a limited time but will they cover this at all over 6 programmes? I missed last night because of our launch but will watch number 2. I think they could have given a more balanced account of this by omitting the grand aims of examining why they think Irish people today are not very law abiding. That trivialises the importance of the historical events they are seeking to examine and the current events they are trying to compare it with. I just don’t think the comparison is there and if anything this takes from the cause of the Rossport 5!


  5. sean Says:

    Great programme – had a look last night, where is that monument to the Rapairi? Tip or somewhere?


  6. Elaine Ní Mhurchú Says:

    Hi Lisa
    I think you might have missed the point of programme one if not the entire series. The first programme set out the series objective clearly early on, i.e. to examine irish attitudes to law and law breaking by looking at outlaw folklore. As someone who loves history i personally think this was a good idea. We who love history need to continually strive to find ways to make it more relevant to people today.

    As for your belief that the inclusion of the Rossport 5 added nothing i very much disagree. No where in the programme is it in anyway implied or stated that the Rossport 5 are meant to symoblise modern day raparees. I took it that the inclusion of the Rossport 5, was there to illustrate 2 things; to show what brings an ordinary law abiding citizen to the point where they are willing to defy the law, and also to show that the tradition of challenging the law is still strong in Ireland today, and that that might be partially a legacy of our folklore which glorifies the outlaw. Having seen last nights programme which showed councillor Seamus Healy supporting some strike and him talking about how characters such as Ned of the hill inspired him to fight for justice, i think i’m right. Because once again this programme showed another impact of the outlaw folklore on our attitude to law.

    Finally as for your comment that this TG4 series, is only glorifying the raparrees as heroes; from the trailor shown last night for next weeks programme which is on a guy called Redmond Hanlon, i suspect you might be wrong on that too. All that said its great to have a discussion board like this going. Well done to you and to TG4!


  7. puesoccurrences Says:

    My point was that the Raparee in history is more complex than the one being explored here not that they are glorifying these men. They have clearly picked out men from Irish folklore who have been glorified anyone. The concept of raprees goes further then the one that was being examined here.

    I understand the aims of the show and what they are attempting to explore. I didn’t think it worked in the first show and so perhaps if is over ambitious. What is the show about? Is it primarily about the Irish and law or the Irish folklore or doing a documentary about these historical figures? They are all interesting topics but there is not much time to go into detail and give them all the time that they deserve. I think that this may be more of a disagreement on how you like your history served… which is interesting in itself!

    I will have to say that while I found the first very interesting, I enjoyed the second programme much more than the first. It examined folklore and myths about these men more thoroughly than I though the first did. It is a good idea and great to bring attention to this area of history.


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