The earliest etymology for (poet) 'fili', appears in Cormac's (10C) Glossary containing 1400 words, already by then very arcane - and was first translated into English in the middle of the 19C by Kilkenny language scholar John O'Donovan, and it is derived from 'Li' - 'splendour' in praise' and 'Fi' - 'toxic/poisonous' in satire'.
Thus it is said are the
two halves of a poet's tongue. Praise and Satire. Or more usually the
threat of being satirized, was a way that the highly educated forty
generations of courtly lawyer poets in the Gaelic literary tradition, that
underwent a training of 12 years to qualify as the linguistic equivalent
of a brain surgeon, made sure they were paid for what they wrote.
syllabus composed of a voluminous amount of information that is widely
translated and has been easily accessible in English since the beginning
of the 21C.
Before a full blown legally binding satire was written the subject was named and forewarned to engage in mediation and settle the case or a satire would be composed about them, in a composition called Trefhocal, 'three words', usually two words of praise and one of satire, that were considered normal
use when writing poems and other texts addressing those the poets were
seeking payment from for their writing services. The trefhocal named the subject and date and time of the injury, then the word of praise, followed by a word of satire
hinting at what would follow if the issue was not amicably resolved.
In this way bardic satire was a form of weaponised poetry that kept the poets' patrons and their enemies their writings addressed, on their toes; knowing that
if they crossed a line or refused payment they would be done in in toxic satirical language and be made to look very very silly in the act of being humiliated and ridiculed in what were effectively legal documents.
of the satirists today, in America, Colbert and Stewart, as powerful in
contemporary American culture as an Ard Ollamh was in Medieval Gaelic
culture. Made up of a patchwork of 250 various sized Tuatha. An area of
land and social unit consisting of anywhere between several extended
families to many more than this. Because it was an island at the edge of
the mainland, as Yeats said, the (Bronze) Heroic Age lived on a 1000
years longer than the rest of Europe, and explains why the Iron Age clan
system of Ireland was still in place until 29 March 1603.
which point it ended, on the floor of Mellifont Abbey, with the final
O'Neil Mór, Hugh O'Neill, spread-eagled submitting his neck to the tip
of (Lord Mountjoy) Charles Blount's sword, pleading pardon for his
actions and swearing to be loyal to the crown and not seek further
assistance from foreign powers. After a decade of continual seasonal
conflict caught unawares by the English winter campaign of 1602, and
coming into surrender, submit and seek terms. And ending the final Nine
Year War (1594 - 1603) between England and Ireland, after which the
Ulster (and Munster) plantation began.
In the Treaty of Mellifont O'Neil
was granted pardon and restored as the Earl of Tyrone. Brehon law was
to be replaced with English law. The Hiberno-Noman Earls were no longer
permitted to support the Gaelic Bards. English would be the official
language. Catholic Colleges were banned, and most of the great
Gaelic Scholars were left with no option but to continue their studies
is a comedic/tragic fiction and piece of pure poetry without which this
final act would not have occurred, and Irish history may've been
very different. The fact that Elizabeth 1 had died in London six days
earlier on 23 March 1603. A week before O'Neil came in wracked with
grief and on the biggest downer of his life, knowing it was a whole 1200
year old Literary Gaelic Civilsation his submission was ending when he
surrendered spread-eagled on the abbey floor.
had received word of Liz 1's death on 27 March, and therefore was
engaged in a process, literally, of acting out a piece of European-wide
high-stakes geo-political theatre in Mellifont Abbey. The stage on
which he executed what was in essence a fictional play. And, no doubt,
enjoying himself immensely. Knowing that if O'Neil and his supporters
were aware Elizabeth was dead, the woman the Gaelic Chiefs had spent
there entire lives pledging fealty to and rebelling against, before
going back in and then rebelling against again, and repeating the
process with great regularity - reality could have evolved very differently in this unique civil law society, where the penal
concept was alien, during the final days of Gaelic-Hiberno-Norman
Ireland and the Golden Age of England.
had O'Neil and Ireland known? If Elizabeth had gone a few days earlier,
or the news of her death travelled faster to the ears of the Irish
public, history would've been entirely different. As it stands the end
of Gaelic Civilisation was a piece of pure poetry, a culture's entire
social belief, mood, passion and reality of the collective mind, believing it had been beaten, was based on nothing but a fiction. The tragic truth
being that if Ireland knew Bess was dead, it could be 'us' in 'their' and
them in our cultural boat.
satire adjudged to be unfair meant the poet had to pay damages to the
victim of it. And everyone in society had a sliding scale honour price
or lóg n-enech, literally 'face-price' ( the price you had to pay when
you 'lost face' in the legal/poetry process), and when you committed an
unjust act damages were calculated in the civil Brehon law on the basis
of your faceprice. So, for comedic example, my face-price on the Dublin
live poetry scene would be worth an Open Mic slot, ie very very little,
whilst St. Stephanie Jayn Howiyiz and Sir Wotsername the Raving Bore, would be in Anruth/Ollamh territory, and
headliners worth a good few cows or a chariot, if this was the Spoken Word
scene circa 1000AD.
course though they thought themselves very important the poets of yore
were only using words and there could be mortal consequences for picking
a written fight with the wrong target. Tadhg Dall Ó hUiginn
(1550-1595) who was a senior poet in the O’Higgins filidh family, died
after having his tongue cut out in 1595 in revenge for a satire he had
composed against the Ó Hara’s of Cashel Carragh.
was the tréfhocal fócrai, Threeword of Warning, a form used as a final
notice, akin to demanding money with menaces, saying pay up or face the
terrible consequence of a full blown satire, of which there were three
categories mandatory for the poet to learn.
They are recorded in a treatise in the 14C Book of Ballymote enitled: Cis lir fodla aíre? ‘How many types of satire are there?'
Edmund Campion noted in 1571, the standard learning and teaching
practice of the voluminous amount of information on the bardic syllabus,
was in the catechistic, rote form, sung out loud piecemeal by the
students using a technique called 'cronan', or crooning - the
etymological root from which the modern understanding of it came. As is
clear to discern in the treatise on satirical forms in the Book of
Ballymote, that begins with a question obviously meant to be asked out
loud, and then answered, out loud, crooning: Cis lir fodla aíre? ‘How
many types of satire are there?'
Ní hansa. A trí .i. aisnés ocus ail ocus aircetal. 'Not difficult, three i.e. declaration, insult, incantation’.
'Aisnés: declaration; a declaration in prose, reproach without rhyme.
Ail: Insult; verbal injury or derrogatory nickname which sticks, rhymed or not.
Aircetal: Incantation/verse. Divided into 10 varieties with several sub-varieties.
1. Mac Bronn; son of the womb, son of sorrow. This satire is told to only one person. (gossip)
dallbach: (blindness) An Inuendo. In this satire, the victim remains
anonymous while the deeds done or not done are explained in detail.
Further subdivided into three subtypes:
a: firmly established. Done when there is sufficient evidence for the poet to be able to prove the contention.
b: lightly established. Somewhat questionable evidence exists.
c: Heresay or rumor.
Focal i frithshuidiu: word in opposition. "A quatrain of praise and
therein is found a word on the verge of satire" That which looks like
praise but is actually derrogatory.
4. tar n-aire: outrage of satire. A reproach made through negative comparisons about the subject.
tar molta: outrage of praise.' Praise soooo overblown as it is
ridiculous or ironic. The praising of qualities that the subject
6.tamall aire: touch of praise.' Similar to tar n-aire but not as flamboyant.
tamal molta: Satire which praises the subject faintly. Merecer states
that this could be a praise poem that praises the subject about the
shine of his shoes.
8. Lanair. full satire. The name, family and residence of the victim are detailed in a very public way.
9. ainmedh: full blown sarcasm.
10. glam dicind: a religio magical ritual using public satire and
incantation against an unjust king.' It involved 30 clergy, 30 poets and
30 warriors and the spell being spoken just before dawn, by all seven
grades of bard, circling a thorn-bush on top of a hill that divided
territories, facing north, speaking their part of the satire into their
left hand, in which was held a rock and thorn, keeping the legs straight
and bending their back perpendicular up and down. Honest. Search online
and discover the truth of it.
Thanks very much
Kevin Desmond Swords.
This PhD, Satirical Narrative in Early Irish Literature, by Ailís Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh, is very informative on satire in the filidh tradition.