The Irish Bards & Their Schools in Ireland

Irish Hedge Row History. Session #13
Two Thousand Years of Irish History
From the Hedge School at

Today:  The Bardic Schools and Bards in Ancient Ireland

Listen to the complete Hedge Row History Series here:
See all of our sessions on Genealogy; Song; Travel;
Language; and History at the Hedge School here:

Random notes on todays show

Before the time of Patrick
The Irish Bardic School existed before the coming of St. Patrick.
Written in the 7th c., Memoir of St. Patrick, there was a contest
between St. Patrick and the Druids. Each was to throw a book
into the water and see which came out uninjured. Same story is
told in the Tripartite Lives of St. Patrick.

Could they write ?
Tradition says ancient Irish used Ogham, as in the pillar stones
by chiefs graves with a name carved in the stone. Bardic Literature
and Lives of St. Patrick both speak of finding literary and
professional men, all pagan, druids, poets, antiquarians, and and
elaborate code of laws.
Immediately after the arrival of Christianity in the 5th century,
they began writing it down in the Irish language, which tells us
they understood letters already.
Irish poetry also developed in pay schools, with many Irish terms

End of the Bardic era
The Ancient Professional Schools that lasted until 1641 in General.
Generally stopped in 17th century when patrons (Great Families)
became homeless or exiles.
Closer to a University type system, but some may have migrated to
Hedges as teachers, or even students. Started out Pagan, then
Christian fr. Rom trdrs & Pat.

Bardic Schools were secular (taught in Irish as Hedges were at first).
Focus was Irish Language, Irish History, and Brehon Law, and used
intensive scientific study
Long succession of Poets, Brehons and Historians. 1st English Language
account was in 1561?  Four Levels of Study:
1) Brehon or Judge  2) Shankee or Pettigrer  3) Aoesdan = Bard
4) File : Poet, Scholar, Guardian of Values, above the bard.

Hedge Schools arise
Hedges arise from Cromwellian suppression, and further under Wm. III’s
Penal code, increasing in severity till 1782.

The Clanrickarde Memoirs
Clanrickarde Memoirs: London 1722: was a school of Poetry, for
descendants of Poets and of some note already in their tribes.
Day 1 : Student told to write a poem, and went to his cubicle in the dark.
Day 2 : Evening, candles brought to write by, then Professors examined.

The School year
Open from Michaelmas to 25 March, then went home with report on them.
Memoir say it took 6 or 7 years to attain mastery, but maybe not.
The Bardic Schools were very exclusive. Students came from traditional
families serving traditional tribes. Very conservative in nature.  Study of
Latin taken up early by the time of St. Patrick at least.

O’Curry says 10th and 11th century classical knowledge is good with these sch.
Quiggin say the poets of the 13th – 15th century knew religious lit in Latin.
Latin was also used in Irish medical schools at varying levels.

English Tudors brought decline in Bardic Schools. The wars of Eliz. and
Henry 8 hurt Irish and Anglo-Norman Lords.

Bards Forbidden
Earl of Desmond had to pledge no bard would appear in his territory,
as they were a threat to those who ‘occupied’ Ireland.
Entire country is dominated, land confiscations, Flight of the Earls.  Cromwell
then sealed their fate later in the century, i.e. 1641, 1691 Treaty of Limerick
Still, some educated survived, some mention of antiquaries and deducers of
pedigrees for noble families. – per Sir Henry Piers in 1682.

Low point for native learning.  Clanrickarde says reduced to just read and
write a common dialect. “not one country school’ was frequented since 1641.
Schools declined into ‘Courts of Poetry’ for reciting and talking.

Remains of the Bards
Bardic Practice, per a Doctor before 1767, described his visit:
After work day, sit down in house, in bad weather, without doors in fair
weather; telling stories of ancient heroes and times in an amazing style.
Protestant Rector of Dungiven, Derry, says tradition preserved in winter
evenings when Seannachies met, taking turns reciting. If any variance
between 2, then decided by vote !

Galway Seanch. reciting 55 stanzas of 4 lines each from 13th century work.

The above are only rough notes on todays broadcast, please do listen
in for the full account !


Stay tuned for the next session of “Irish Hedge Row History”.

…….So end the notes from the Irish Hedge Row today.
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About Your Session Leaders

Both Michael and Peter are graduates of Rockhurst University,
and have given lectures, exhibits, tours, and educational
seminars relating to Ireland since 1984.

Peter Reilly Adams
Hedge School Instructor
Peter  traces his roots to the County Fermanagh and County
Cavan. Growing up in the City of New York and influenced by
the Irish neighborhoods, he was educated in Catholic Schools
all his life and was a member of the Augustinian Recollect
Order. Now in Kansas City, Kansas, he has a Bacholar
Degree in  Philosophy, Theology and History and Masters
in Liberal Arts and Public Administration
He has taught at every level of education over the past 40
years and served as Assistant to the Mayor in Kansas City.
He was the host of the Irish Radio show, Celtic Crossings
and has led tours to Ireland for 23 years. He is a noted
musician and a talented vocalist.

Michael C. O’Laughlin
Poor Scholar

Mike O’Laughlin is the founder of the hedge school on the web,
and is the leading author and publisher of Irish Works
in the field of Irish Families, Genealogy and History.

About Mike

Mike is the worlds most published author in his field, with over 40 books, 700 articles, two newsletters, a blog, 200 podcasts and 170 videos. He also publishes rare books like "The Annals of Ireland by the Four Masters" and Keatings "History of Ireland". Mike also sings in the Irish (Gaeilge) Language, with 3 albums to his credit. Mike descends from the O’Loughlins of Kilfenora, County Clare, and the O’Donahues of Glenflesk, County Kerry and also bears Sullivan, Buckley, Kilmartin, Llewellyn and Kelliher roots. He has led tours to Ireland and maintains a 3,000 volume Irish library.
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