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Page 17 of 18
Last Words

In the introduction to her fascinating chapter on social and economic conditions, in "Irish History from Contemporary Sources (1509--1610)", published by George Allen & Unwin Ltd., London, Constantia Maxwell, Lecturer in Modern History, Trinity College, Dublin, conveyed in very direct terms the enmity of the English government to the bards in the era covered by her book. Two short excerpts from page 64 tell the story:

"The brehons, who had expounded the law from earliest times, belonging to an hereditary caste, had many privileges, as also had the bards, chroniclers and rhymers. The bards, as the exponents of national feeling, were especially disliked by the Government, and their activities were controlled by various legal enactments. {see footnote} They raised a warlike spirit in those chieftains who were their patrons, and handed on the national traditions through their art."


"In the reign of Edward VI it was enacted that no poet should compose any poem except in honour of the (English) King. Cal. Car. MSS., I, 214-15."

This went directly against the dictum so succinctly put by one of the foremost of the Irish historian annalists. In "Ireland, from the Flight of the Earls to Grattan's Parliament", a documentary record compiled and edited by James Carty, published by C. J. Fallon Limited, Dublin, 1949, Carty at page 53 displayed a photstat of an introduction to the Annals of the Four Masters in the handwriting of Brother Michael O'Clerigh, dated 1634 A.D., translated as follows:

"It is self-significant, wherever nobility and honour flourish, that nothing is more glorious or more worthy of praise than to revive the knowledge of ancient authors and of the illustrious personages and nobles of former times, so that succeeding generations might cherish the memory of their ancestors."

Amen to that, say I.

Footnote: This has proven to be the most difficult task I have undertaken since first placing "A Home Page with an Irish Flavour" on the Internet four years ago. Part II of necessity must wait until the turn of the century. Those familiar with old Irish MSS have noted how scribes referred at intervals to their arduous labours by inserting in the blank spaces on the sides of pages comments such as, "My hand is tired with holding the pen." Well do I know how they felt. Had they had to deal with a recalcitrant computer, they would have known how I feel now.

Part II will include portions of the original bardic poetry in Irish. Meanwhile, readers may satisfy their curiosity by using the Internet to access various sites, foremost being Irish Bardic Poetry.

If others are motivated to celebrate their bardic ancestors in similar style, as a result of this effusion, I shall be most happy, and will provide links as appropriate. Among other illustrious families of bards were the O'Higgins's, the O'Dalys, the MacNamees, the O'Mulconrys, and Egans, to mention a few. Their descendants people all parts of the planet. As an example, there are over 150,000 Ward households scattered throughout the five continents, not all of them bards! In other fields of endeavour one became Lord Mayor of Dublin, another the Provost of Trinity College, another Prime Minister of New Zealand, another--I shall not dwell on this list either.

A thousand good wishes, one for each year, to all in the new millennium!

© Seán Mac an Bháird
Ceanada 1999


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