Discover more from Citizens of Nowhere
🎓 'Ollave or Doctor'
I'm blown away by the awesome intensity of the Bardic schools in 7th century Ireland.
I like to muse about the characters and careers of my distant ancestors.
I figure if any of them are royalty, or high officials I’d know about it. Families cling to the smallest scraps of that kind of thing. I know the Irish side of my family descends from a rather successful retailer a few generations back. Owners of a family home that was big enough to be converted into a senior care facility a couple of generations later.
But before that? I’m impressed by the sheer endurance of the genes that make me up. Survivors and thrivers amidst wars, plagues, purges and all the other slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
On the male side, I figure that if there’s any nobility involved, then I’m likely descended from a long line of troublesome ‘third sons’. The first son inherits the estate, the second becomes a priest and the third, landless son is the one finds himself shipped out to the colonies - either as a soldier or as a merchant. I feel a strong affinity to Samuel Butler - author of Erewhon - who is dispatched to colonial Canterbury to make his fortune in land and sheep (or die trying).
On the female side? Daughters married off? Servants in love?
Who knows? I’m left to fantasise. I hear of some reincarnation party or society somewhere where three people turned up as Napoleon. That’s less interesting to me than what I imagine is closer to the truth: a ‘Meek’ past filled with minor merchants, tradies, servants, soldiers, sailors and religious. Maybe with links to an interesting voyage or a crucial battle.
And most probably some unsavoury associations that are well to be reckoned with.
Every now and then I read something of people in the past that sings out to me.
A note of recognition? Or just vain hope? Whatever it is, it’s what happens to me while reading Ireland It’s Saints and Scholars by J. M. Flood. Originally published who knows when, and reprinted in a photocopy-style versions by forgottenbooks.com.
It focuses on Ireland between the arrival of St. Patrick in the mid-400s AD and the 700s when Ireland was perhaps the world’s great seat of learning for both sacred and profane culture. The knowledge of the ages was preserved there. Shielded from continental upheavals, it becomes the gathering place and training ground for aspiring priests, monks and nuns who found numerous monasteries across the known world and gain great fame as advisors to popes and so on. With and alongside the ecclesiastical, train the lay. The poets, physicians, lawyers, artists and historians. People who attain an extraordinary level of competence in the liberal arts.
The course of education was divided into seven stages, or as they were called the “seven degrees of wisdom” which corresponded with the term periods in a modern university. A student who had passed through the various degrees and attained to the highest grade was known as an ‘Ollave or Doctor.’
The course that really pricks up my ears is for Bards.
In the Bardic schools the course extended over twelve years, and an Ollave poet had to possess a knowledge of seven kinds of verse, and to be able to compose extemporaneously in each. In addition he was required to know by heart three hundred and fifty legendary poems for recitation in public.
Part performer, part scholar, part librarian, part historian, part keeper of the fire.
He took rank at the head of the learned professions and was considered to be the equal of kings and bishops in social dignity and importance. The profession of the poet was highly esteemed and very popular, so much so that Keating tells that in the middle of the sixth century nearly a third of the men of Ireland belonged to the poetic order.
So that’s a pretty good strike rate. 1 in 3 chance of having a bardic relative. An ancestor vocationally attracted to the preservation and transmission of stories.
I relate, but am I related?