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Burren Bards

Martello Tower, Finavarra  © Copyright A McCarron and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence
Martello Tower, Finavarra
© Copyright A McCarron and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence

Freeman’s Journal 28th March 1929 p43

The Rise of the Bard


Donnchadh Mór Ó Dálaigh (who died in 1244) lived in Finavarra in County Clare. A  monument in his memory was erected at Pouldoody Bay opposite the site thought to be the poetry school of the Ó Dálaigh’s.  According to O’Donovan the Annals of the Four Masters states that he was the head of the O’Dalys of Finavarra. The Ó Dálaigh’s of Finavara were hereditary poets to the Ó Lochlainn’s of the Burren.


From about the 13th century to the close of the 16th the hitherto despised family bard became the most important literary man in Ireland. Bards were not simply makers of verse or singers of elegies. They were much more than this. They were personages of considerable political power who made it their business to inflame the ardour or soothe the passions of their chiefs. By their songs, reciting the deeds of the ancestors of their lords, they stirred them up to wars; by persuasion, they averted displeasure from some personage or clan in whom they felt an interest.  It was they who advised, warned, threatened or encouraged; their praise was as much sought after as their blame was dreaded.  Moreover, they wandered about the country, welcomed and feasted wherever they went, and the acquaintance that they formed with tribal affairs and with the trend of events was of service to their own chiefs and available for the guidance of the tribe at large.  They were trained from birth for their office, and, as Dr. O’Donovan says;

they discharged the functions and wielded the influence of the modern newspaper and periodical press.

They formed a guild apart, and for substantial rewards they gave information and encouragement useful to their patrons, sang their praises and deplored their deaths.

The influence wielded by the bards is best shown by the anxiety of the English Government to suppress an order which they felt to be dangerous to their power in Ireland, or, failing this; to buy their services for their own use. A great number of laws were passed with the object of limiting their power, and occasionally regular raids were made upon them, as, for example, when in 1415 Lord Justice Talbot

harried a large contingent of Ireland’s poets, as O’Daly of Meath, Hugh Oge Magrath, Duffach son of the learned Eochy and Maurice O’Daly.

In the ensuing summer he raided O’Daly of Corcomrua (County Clare).

The bards did not always succeed in pleasing their own patrons. For instance, about 1213, the poet Murdoch O’Daly of Lisadill had a quarrel with a steward of O’Donnells, a vulgar loon who fell to wrangling with him about a cess to be paid to the chief.

The man of verse,’ says the Four Masters, ‘lost his temper with him, and having taken into his hand an extraordinary sharp axe, dealt him a stroke whereby he left him dead – lifeless.’

The bard flew to Clanrickard (County Galway), and the Northern Chief, more to avenge the insult to himself than to punish the breach, followed.  He marched in chase of the offending bard, ravaged Clare and laid siege to Limerick, whence the culprit was passed on from house to house till he reached Dublin. Thither again O’Donnell pursued him, and the bard was finally banished to Scotland, from which circumstance he is known as ‘Scottish Murray’ (Muireadhach Albanach), underwhich name he wrote several good poems, found both in Scottish, and Irish collections.

He seems to have travelled.  One of his works mentions a visit made by him to the Mediterranean, and he frequently expresses the joy it would be to him to find himself off the Scottish coast or to breathe the breath of Ireland. He seems to have slipped back to Ireland and to his old home more than once.  Finally he gained O’Donnell’s pardon and a grant of land by the production of three poems in his honor. ‘Scottish Murray’s’ own comment on his deeds and their punishment is pithy and quaint. In one of his poems he says: Trifling is our difference with the man (O’Donnell) that a bumpkin was abusing me and that I killed a serf— O God, doth this constitute a misdemeanor?



B.A., M.A.(Archaeology); Regional Tour Guide; Dip. Radio Media Tech; H.Dip. Computer Science.

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