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18 September 2014
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Wars and Conflict - The Plantation of Ulster

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Bardic poets were forced to find new patrons
- Dr. Bernadette Cunningham

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The response of the poets to The Flight of the Earls tends to be a very personal response because it really was a serious matter for them: their patrons had gone, their source, their means of making a living for themselves had disintegrated overnight. The chieftains who they would have worked for to write professional poetry for many years had suddenly left the country, left them with nobody that they could work for. So they had to find new trades or else they had to find new patrons. Now what actually happened in the case of poets like Fear Flatha Ó Gnímh is that they did look to new patrons so that you find by the second decade of the 17th century, Fear Flatha’s employed by a lady called Martha Stafford who is wife of Sir Henry O’Neill so she’s an English woman, the daughter of an English administrator who has married-in to a branch of the O’Neills, and she is working as a patron of poets, she’s employing Fear Flatha to write poems in praise of her. So the poems he writes then are not the traditional praise poems that you’d get within a Gaelic lordship - this doesn’t praise the family for their warrior-like tendencies or their hospitality - this praises their new English-style house known as ‘Shane’s Castle’, a house that’s built on an English model but here you get bardic poetry in praise of this English-style house - which is an example of how the poets will just adapt and write for new patrons where they have to. Yes, they felt let down by the fact that the Earls had gone overseas and had left them with no source of patronage, but they just adapted to the new ways as best they could, and sought new ways to make a living.

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