This study explores the rhetorical devices used by Irish bardic poets to create poetry of literary worth and abiding interest. A number of poems selected for this study are read with emphasis on the rhetorical characteristics they shared with work of similar status in other parts of Europe in the High Middle Ages.
Irish bardic poetry is an expression of mediaeval European high literary cultures. Its themes, tropes, and treatments are, along with being an expression of indigenous Irish literary culture, reflexes of the shared classical culture of the Europe of the High Middle Ages. This work explores the rhetorical reality in the works of poets from the thirteenth (Ídamh Ó Fialán) to the seventeenth centuries (Eochaidh Ó hEoghusa). Emphasis is placed on the literary world of the poetry, building on the metrical, linguistic, textual studies and editions published by scholars over the last century.
The readings presented here reveal the world of Irish bardic poetry as a fully chromatic, vibrant, humorous, scholarly and literary enterprise. Poets participated creatively and consciously in contemporary literary movements, filtering and selecting to suit the sensibilities of the vital indigenous literary culture. The readings offered in this study re-establish the international flavour of Irish bardic profane poetry and, in doing so, return the poet and the poetry to a world in which the literary works have merit in their own right. In this study, bardic poetry is not explored for its immediate historical references to events or to people. The result of this is to cast a bright light both on the literary nature of the poetry and on the vigorous and engaged literary culture in Ireland, abandoning, for once, the necessity to refer everything to the duality of conquered and conqueror.
Michelle O'Riordan is Assistant Professor and Publications Officer, School of Celtic Studies, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. She is author of The Gaelic Mind and the Collapse of the Gaelic World (Cork University Press, 1990), and coeditor of Celtica 22 (1991), and Celtica 23 (1999)