Graves, Alfred Perceval (1846–1931), writer, folklorist, and schools inspector, was born 22 July 1846 at 12 Fitzwilliam Square, Dublin, the second son of nine children of Charles Graves (qv), clergyman and mathematician, and Selina Graves, daughter of Dr. John Cheyne (qv). His lifelong interest in Irish literature and song stemmed from his childhood, when he spent lengthy periods at Parknasilla, Co. Kerry. Educated at Windermere College in England and privately at home, he went on to attend TCD, graduating senior moderator in 1871. As an undergraduate he contributed verse to the Trinity journal Kottabos and the Dublin University Magazine.
Graves moved to London in 1869 and was employed as a home office clerk and private secretary until 1875. He maintained his interest in literature, producing theatre reviews for The Examiner, editing the short-lived Oxford journal Dark Blue, and, more importantly, contributing humorous poetry and prose to leading publications, among them Punch, Cassell's Magazine, The Athenaeum, the Boston Pilot, and The Spectator, which in 1875 published his most popular piece, ‘Father O'Flynn’. In 1873 his first volume of poetry, Songs of Killarney, appeared, which drew on his love of traditional song.
In 1874 he married Jane Cooper of Cooper Hill, Co. Limerick, with whom he had five children; they moved to Manchester in 1875 on his being appointed an inspector of schools. A four-year stay there, during which he founded the Dramatic Reform Society, was followed by periods in Huddersfield (1879–82) and Taunton (1882–5). Graves continued his prolific literary output, producing numerous volumes of Irish poetry, including Songs of old Ireland (1882) and Songs of Erin (1892), on which he collaborated with Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (qv). He also edited the Purcell papers (1880) by J. S. Le Fanu (qv), wrote the libretto for an opera by Michele Esposito (qv), The postbag: a lesson in Irish, which was performed at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin, in March 1902, and wrote a play, ‘The absentee’, which was staged by the Court Theatre, London, in 1908.
A founder member in 1891 of the Irish Literary Society (ILS) in London, for which he served as honorary secretary for eight years and as president for two terms, he played an influential role in the formation of its offshoot the Irish Folk Song Society. Through his work with the ILS he promoted the study of the Irish language and came into contact with the Gaelic League. He often attended their meetings, and in August 1906 was invited to their ard fheis in Dublin as a visitor. On being transferred to the London district of Southwark in 1895, he settled in Lauriston Road, Wimbledon, renaming his home Red Branch House, probably an allusion to the knights of that name in Irish mythology. From 1904 he was an active member of the Irish Industries Committee in London, and for many years served as editor of Every Irishman's Library.
In London he founded and chaired the Southwark Educational Council, and went on to establish bodies in Battersea, Wandsworth, and Kensington. These proved so effective that he was invited by the local authorities to establish similar bodies in Islington, Stepney, Hampstead, Norwich, and Taunton. Through his work as an educationist he consistently encouraged the development of physical education as part of the elementary school curriculum and pushed for improved playing-fields for children in urban areas. Although he retired from the inspectorate in 1910, he continued to exert influence in education as chairman of the representative managers of the London county council schools (1911–19).
In 1899 Graves acquired a second home in Harlech, north Wales, where he spent the greater part of his retirement. Over the years he gradually became more and more interested in the wider field of Celtic literature. A founder member of the Folklore Society of Wales and the Pan-Celtic Society, he attended the first Pan-Celtic congress organised by Lord Castletown (qv) in Dublin. His later publications, such as A Celtic psaltery (1917) and A Celtic song book (1928), reflect these broader concerns. He also organised and wrote the greater part of the books for the Harlech historical pageant of Welsh history in 1920, 1922, and 1927. During the home rule crisis of 1912–14, he actively promoted his idea of ‘Home Rule outside Home Rule’ for Ulster. In 1925 he was awarded an honorary doctorate from TCD.
After the death of his first wife in March 1886, he married, in December 1891, Amalie von Ranke, daughter of a Munich medical professor, with whom he had five children, among them the poet Robert Graves (1895–1985). Graves responded to his son's autobiography Good-bye to all that (1929) with the publication of his own memoirs, To return to all that (1930). He died 27 December 1931 at his home, Erinfa, in Harlech.