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18 September 2014
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Wars and Conflict - The Plantation of Ulster

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Ireland before the Plantation
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Gaelic social life
- Professor Donnchadh Ó Corráin

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The indigenous Irish system had a system of what we might call ‘privatised learning’ - that is to say, there were schools of law, there were schools of history, of genealogy and schools of bardic poetry.

Now the way a bardic poet made his living was by writing the official praise poetry for the accession of his lord, lamenting his death, celebrating his marriage - these social functions. But these were only part of the role because these bardic poets operated as diplomats, as advisors, as reminders of past glory - so to speak, they were ‘Minister for Culture’, ‘Poet Laureate’ and several other of these kinds of functions, and they derived from a highly trained hereditary series of bardic lineages, they ran their own schools, and the length of time you studied was seven years and you became a master of literature and poetry.

But also there were schools of law in which young men were trained over many years in indigenous Irish law, which is usually called Brehon law, and these people again were the advisors and the law officers of noblemen like O’Neill and O’Donnell, and McCarthy and O’Sullivan, so that there was a coherent series of learned classes of people who discharged functions of a high cultural and political significance in Gaelic Ireland.

Now also there were schools of history where people trained in the historical records of Ireland. If you look in the 15th century, and indeed in the end of the 14th and the 15th century, and in the 16th century, these people are producing great manuscripts which contain extensive texts of law, literature, metrics, medicine, genealogy, history. And these historical scholars are involved in writing-up and preserving the annals of Ireland, so that even though there is no university, there is a very coherent organisation of culture, and this is what keeps the high level of self-awareness, of historical self-awareness amongst the Irish aristocracy.

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