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Irish poetry, which dates back to the 6th century, originated from the country’s rich oral tradition. Until the late middle ages, Irish poets wrote in their native language. As the English influence over Ireland increased, English became the predominant language for Irish poetry with periodic historical resurgences of Gaelic that continue into today.

One of the oldest Irish poems is The Mystery, from The Book of Invasions, an ancient Irish book that relates the history and mythology of the coming of the Gaels to Ireland. The poem is attributed to Amergin, a Milesian and Druid who came to Ireland from Spain centuries before the birth of Christ. The Milesians or Gaels defeated the Tuatha dé Danaan, the previous inhabitants of Ireland, and became the new rulers.

During medieval times, Irish poets came from noble families and attended special bardic schools to learn their poetic traditions. These highly trained poets and scholars belonged to a hereditary social caste with two primary divisions, the bards and the filidh. Bards recited or sang poetry. Filidh occupied a higher social position than bards and received more education. Both classes of Irish poets received years of training and education in the history and legends of the clans and in rhyme and meter and other elements of poetry.

Famous 18th century Irish poets include Thomas More, Jonathan Swift and Oliver Goldsmith. Poets of note in the 19th century include William Allingham and Samuel Ferguson. In the 20th century, Irish poet William Butler Yeats won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Current poets include talented women like Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Eavan Boland and Eiléan Ní Chuílleanáin.

Irish Poetry

Irish Poets

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