De Bhailís, Colm (1796–1906), composer of traditional songs, was born 2 May 1796 in the area known as Ceantar na nOileán (then an isolated island district), west of Béal an Daingin in Connemara, Co. Galway. The precise location of his birth is unknown; Denvir (p. 8) suggests three possibilities: Garmna, Baile na Cille, and Leitir Mealláin. He earned his living as a sawyer and stonemason, plying his trade throughout Ireland – first in his home place, then in Westport, Co. Mayo for a year, then in Tullamore, Co. Offaly, and then in Kilrush, Co. Clare, where he spent eleven years – before returning to Baile na Cille, possibly in the 1850s. After the death of his second wife c.1900, he entered the poorhouse in Uachtar Ard, whose guardian, Isodore Darcy, got Pádhraic Ó Domhnalláin (1884–1960) – an Irish scholar from the locality who contributed regularly to Conradh na Gaeilge's paper An Claidheamh Soluis – to keep the poet company and to write down his songs. Although de Bhailís's songs were by now being widely sung throughout Connemara, and although he featured in many (mainly apocryphal) seanchas stories and was renowned as a seanchaí and wit in his own right, the fact that he was still alive was not known to the wider world until it was revealed in Celtia (October 1902). After Ó Domhnalláin highlighted de Bhailís's plight in An Claidheamh Soluis (May 1903), P. H. Pearse (qv) launched an appeal that raised enough money to secure lodgings (August 1903) for the elderly poet in a relative's house in Uachtar Ard, where he is reported as being ‘as strong as an Englishman’ in 1904 (Laoide, xix). In 1905 he was forced by circumstances to return to the poorhouse, where he died 27 February 1906 aged 109, and was buried in Cill Chuimín cemetery.
The fact that his occupation is given as ‘Irish poet’ on his death certificate (Denvir, 13) reflects the belated recognition he received. He was a contemporary of the Connemara poet Micheál Mac Suibhne (qv), who died in 1820, and he proudly recalled seeing Antaine Raiftearaí (qv) – who was an important influence on his own work, and whom he later described as fear garbh, ‘a rough man’ – playing music at the side of the road in Galway. In his definitive edition of de Bhailís's work, Gearóid Denvir has added three songs, which he believes can be attributed to him, to the seventeen published in 1904. Despite the several rather patronising attempts made by language revivalists at the turn of the twentieth century to portray him as a naive peasant poet and as an example of the type of pure, simple – almost Yeatsian – Gaeltacht man they wished to present to the world, he is better seen as a talented and witty composer within the Connemara song tradition. Many of his songs still enjoy pride of place in the repertoires of today's sean-nós singers, most notably ‘Amhrán an tae’ and his masterpiece of comic irony, ‘Cúirt an tsrutháin bhuí’. The latter is a good example of the living tradition to which he contributed, in that it probably influenced the similar ‘Caisleán a’ tsléibhe’, which was collected from its composer, Maidhcil Bheairtle Uí Donnchú from the Iorras Aithneach area, in the 1940s (Ó Ceannabháin, 2). De Bhailís was married twice: first to Siobhán Frainc Ní Lochlainn, and then to a woman named Úna. He had one son by his first marriage, Tomás, who died in 1877 aged about twenty-two.
More information on this entry is available at the National Database of Irish-language biographies (Ainm.ie).