The professional poet in medieval Irish society belonged to a privileged class of people that included kings, lords and clerics. Kings and lords retained professional poets at court well into the early modern period. The poet’s status in society was second only to that of the king and he operated not merely as a praise poet, but also as public official, advisor, historian, satirist and storyteller.
The poetry composed by these poets was preserved in manuscripts known as duanaire, or poem-book. The 16th-century Book of the O’Conor Don, is the most extensive, and possibly the most important, collection of Irish bardic poetry to survive.
This talk will consider the role of the poet in Irish society in the middle ages and his significance in the lives of a number of MacCarthy princes, taking as its examples extracts from the poems dedicated to ten MacCarthy lords of the 14th-17th centuries that are preserved in the Book of the O’Conor Don.