Dylan's latest release, I Contain Multitudes, makes reference to Irish poets Antoine Ó Raifteirí and W.B. Yeats as well as the Irish ballad Danny Boy, according to scholars.
The second track Bob Dylan has released in eight years, I Contain Multitudes, makes reference to Irish poets and songs, including a mysterious reference to blind 19th-century bard from County Mayo.
In I Contain Multitudes Bob Dylan sings "Follow me close, I’m going to Ballinalee/I’ll lose my mind if you don’t come with me.” This reference to Ballinalee, a County Longford town, is believed to be a reference to Antoine Ó Raifteirí (aka Anthony Raftery) often referred to as the last of the wandering bards. This line is thought to be a reference to The Lass from Ballynalee by Ó Raifteirí.
Ó Raifteirí was born in Mayo. He became blind after contracting smallpox. He went on to perform songs and poems for the Anglo-Irish gentry and died near Craughwell, in Galway.
Speaking to the Sunday Times, Richard Thomas, a Harvard professor who wrote the book Why Dylan Matters said the theme of Irish bards runs "throughout the song and throughout Dylan’s whole songbook" and this song refers to all Dylan (78) has soaked up throughout his lifetime.
Thomas said, "That he begins with Ó Raifteirí... takes you back to folk, Irish, but also Scottish, English, Appalachian, which hold a central place in his creative mind."
Ó Raifteirí isn't the only Irish figure who makes his presence felt in his latest track.
Irish poet and Pulitzer prize-winner Paul Muldoon also noted references to W.B. Yeats. He told the Times "The most useful way of thinking of it is as a mingling of a number of Irish writers, including a Yeats and Raftery amalgam."
In 1900, Yeats, Lady Gregory, and Edward Martyn placed a memorial stone over Ó Raifteirí's grave.
Muldoon said Ó Raifteirí "is known primarily through the prism of Yeats... But his best poems, like Anach Cuan, are milestones of Gaelic literature.”
He added that the line “The flowers are dyin’”, could refer to the beloved Irish ballad, Danny Boy.
Other Irish references fans have pointed out include the line "Keep your mouth away from me” is a reference to a 17th-century Irish poem.
Online forums, including Cassandra Voices, put Dylan's interest and references to Irish poetry down to Shane MacGowan, the frontman of The Pogues. Apparently the two men spent an evening together in 2017 and MacGowan gave him some poetry tips.
However, Dylan's interest in Ireland is not new. Daniel Epstein, author of The Ballad of Bob Dylan: A Portrait told the Times, “The theme of civil disobedience in Irish traditional music, and Dylan’s own music, is evident,” he said.
“Dylan was profoundly influenced by traditional Irish music from the beginning of his career.”
It's also thought that Dylan could have become aware of Ó Raifteirí through the late Irish musician Liam Clancy, who publicly recited the Mayo poet's works. In the past, Dylan has cited the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem as influences.
A quick look back through Dylan's discography shows the huge influence the Irish have had on his work, so far.
His 1963 Dylan released Farewell, an alternate rendition of Leaving of Liverpool, an Irish folk song adapted by The Dubliners and The Pogues.
Dylans' 1964 song, The Times They Are a-Changin’, was heavily influenced by Irish ballads.
Epstein told the Times the opening line is a reference to Come Gather Round Me Parnellites by Yeats.
Dylan even recorded a cover of The Auld Triangle in 1967. In 1989 he performed another Irish ballad Eileen Aroon, at the RDS, in Dublin. He has also covered Paul Brady's version of Arthur McBride in his album, Good as I Been to You.