The role of the poet was a unique position in Gaelic medieval society. Highly regarded, well paid, and extremely learned, they were employed by chieftains and the aristocracy.
Court poets (ollamhs) composed poems praising their patron’s beauty, strength, hospitality and success in love and war. The poems were usually written for special occasions such as Christmas, Easter, a wedding or funeral.
The poems were recited at the occasion, not by the poet himself, but by a professional reciter, known as a reacaire. The reacarie was often accompanied by a harpist.
Poems were written in Classical Gaelic according to traditional rules and set imagery. They were composed in a darkened room. The poet shut himself off to draft a complete poem in his head. Only once the whole poem had been memorised, could it then be written down.
Examples of two poets associated with the Maguire chieftains are Tadhg Dall Ó hUiginn (1550-1591) and Eochaidh Ó hEódhasa (1560–1612). Tadhg Dall Ó hUiginn was born in Sligo into a family of poets. He is sometimes described as blind and is reputed to have been murdered by the O’Haras for satirising one of them in his poems.
Eochaidh Ó hEódhasa came from a hereditary family of poets living in Fermanagh. He was court poet (ollamh) to three successive Maguire chieftains.