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O'Higgins - Ó hUigin - d'Eguino

Uí hUigin - Ó hUigin - O'Higgins - Higgins

History

Hereditary Poets - Aos Dána

While Ó Cléirigh’s genealogies report that the first of the O’Higgins to take up the profession of  file (poet scholar) was Flaitbheartach of Ballindoon (fl. 930 AD) other sources suggest that members of the O’Higgins family were hereditary poets from before the 6th century and possibly as far back as pre-Christian times. We also know from the Annals of Ireland and a number of other Gaelic texts that the sept continued to produce a succession of celebrated poets until the fall of the Gaelic order in the 17th century (MacDermott, 1989).


Sir James Terry, Herald at the Court of King James II from 1690-1720, described the Muintir Uiginn as the "most ancient, most noble and most illustrious" hereditary poets of Ireland. In fact, the Ó hUiginn family are the second most frequently named authors in the corpus of Gaelic poetry, coming only after the Uí Dhálaigh poets of Meath and Munster.

So highly esteemed was the poetic art in Ireland that Keating (1580-1645) in his history written about 1630 tells us that at one time no less than a third of the patrician families of Ireland followed that profession. The role of Ollamh or professor was the highest of seven levels of file and it took a minimum of twelve years to achieve this honour.

Bards on the other hand were organised into sixteen levels forming a separate but related lower occupation. During the wars with the Norsemen in the 9th and 10th centuries the bards suffered greatly in their number and from this time onwards the lines of distinction between poet and bard were less distinct. For the most part it seems that the file would employ a bard to announce his poems, orations and satires at the Chief's court reserving for himself the recitation of family genealogies at royal inaugurations. The file was second in status to no-one except the Chief whom he represented.

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