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O'Higgins - Ó hUigin - d'Eguino

Uí hUigin - Ó hUigin - O'Higgins - Higgins


Hereditary Poets (contd.)

In the middle of the 6th century a crisis developed as a result of the Gaelic Chiefs having to support both the bishops of the newly established Christian religion while continuing to support the druidic poets of the established Gaelic pagan culture. This situation resulted in a serious economic burden on the Chiefs who had to provide both bishop and poet with grants of lands, titles and protection.

According to the Book of Rights written sometime between the 7th and 11th century, a poets household was quite considerable in size comprising his family, clan relations and many of his students. Schools of poetry existed in Ireland from ancient times but rather than existing on permanent sites, they were often located wherever the Ollamh (professor) decided to impose himself on a Chief or wealthy landowner who in turn was obliged to support him. This constituted a heavy drain on the resources of the clans, and at three different periods in Irish history the people tried to shake off their burden.

In 590 AD Saint Columcille, who was a poet himself, intervened for the poets at the Synod of Drum Ceat. The result was that public lands were set apart for their schools, and these continued until the later English conquest, when those who survived the reign of Elizabeth I fell beneath the scourge of Cromwell. However, while the number of poets allowed to practice was reduced, arising from the Synod of Drum Ceat and the intervention of Saint Columcille, the occupation of poet became regarded as a hereditary right of a small number of families one of whom were the O'Higgins. Thence, we can trace the tradition of members of the O'Higgins as public servants to before the Synod of Drum Ceat in the 6th century.