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Irish bardic poetry

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Irish bardic poetry

Bardic Poetry refers to the writings of poets trained in the Bardic Schools of Ireland and the Gaelic parts of Scotland, as they existed down to about the middle of the 17th century, or, in Scotland, the early 18th century. Most of the texts preserved are in Middle Irish or in early Modern Irish, however, even though the manuscripts were very plentiful very few were printed. It was considered a period of great literary stability due to the formalised literary language that changed very little. This allowed Bardic poets to travel over parts of Ireland and Gaelic Scotland with little difficulty.


  • Background 1
  • Example 2
  • Bardic texts 3
  • Selected poets 4
  • Selected poems 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


Irish file or bards (there was a technical distinction between the ranks, but the terms in later times were used interchangeably) formed a professional hereditary caste of highly trained, learned poets. The bards were steeped in the history and traditions of clan and country, as well as in the technical requirements of a verse technique known as Dán Díreach that was syllabic and used assonance, half rhyme and alliteration. As officials of the court of king or chieftain, they performed a number of official roles.

The bards' approach to the official duties of whatever the situation might have been was very traditional and drawn from precedent. However, even though many Bardic poets were traditional in their approach, there were also some who added personal feelings into their poems and also had the ability to adapt with changing situations although conservative. They were chroniclers and satirists whose job it was to praise their employers and curse those who crossed them.

Much of their work would not strike the modern reader as being poetry at all, consisting as it does of extended genealogies and almost journalistic accounts of the deeds of their lords and ancestors: the Irish bard was not necessarily an inspired poet, but rather a professor of literature and a man of letters, highly trained in the use of a polished literary medium, belonging to a hereditary caste of high prestige in an aristocratic society (very conservative and based on prestige), holding an official position therein by virtue of his training, his learning, his knowledge of the history and traditions of his country and his clan (Bergin 1912).


The following is an example of a Bardic poem from the translations of Osborn Bergin:


Filled with sharp dart-like pens
Limber tipped and firm, newly trimmed
Paper cushioned under my hand
Percolating upon the smooth slope
The leaf a fine and uniform script
A book of verse in ennobling Goidelic.

I learnt the roots of each tale, branch
Of valour and the fair knowledge,
That I may recite in learned lays
Of clear kindred stock and each person's
Family tree, exploits of wonder
Travel and musical branch
Soft voiced, sweet and slumberous
A lullaby to the heart.

Grant me the gladsome gyre, loud
Brilliant, passionate and polished
Rushing in swift frenzy, like a blue edged
Bright, sharp-pointed spear
In a sheath tightly corded;
The cause itself worthy to contain.


An example of a Bardic Poet can also be seen in the novel The Year of the French (1979) by Thomas Flanagan. In this book, a character by the name of Owen MacCarthy is bard known for his training with the native language as well as English. He is turned to write specific, important letters by a group named the "Whiteboys". They are in need of someone skilled with writing letters, such as a bard like MacCarthy.

Bardic texts

Selected poets

Selected poems

See also


  • Osborn Bergin, 'Bardic Poetry: a lecture delivered in 1912', in Irish Bardic Poetry, Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (1970).
  • Michelle O'Riordan, Irish Bardic Poetry and Rhetorical Reality, Cork University Press [1] (2007)
  • The Oxford Companion to Irish Literature by Robert Welch, Bruce Stewart

External links

  • Techniques used in early medieval Irish poetry
  • Irish Bardic Tradition
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