Thomas Bartlett, reviewing Michelle O’Riordan, The Gaelic Mind and the Collapse of the Gaelic World (Cork UP 1991), in Linen Hall Review, Apr. 1992, pp.18-19.

… four historians have entered the fray …

BRADSHAW: … In his examination of this [bardic] poetry, or to be more precise, of one segment of it, viz. the poem-book or duanaire of the O’Byrne sept of Wicklow, Brendan Bradshaw has detected unmistakeable signs of ‘a new self-concious nationalism articulated in the poetry’, of the emergence of ‘a national poilitical consciousness’ which was transforming the O’Byrne’s from tribal lords into leaders of a national struggle against the foreigner.

TOM DUNN: Not so, arged Tom Dunn in an article evaluating the Gaelic reaction to conquest and colonisation. The Gaelic poetry of the period, he claimed, ‘reveals a much less positive and more complex Gaelic response, one which remained predominantly local rather than national … it was highly pragmatic, deeply fatalistic, increasingly escapist. and essentially apolitical.’ The poets themselves were more concerned with short-term objectives—the need for a patron being high on their list of proprities—while the poetry itself because of the very rigidity of its structure made the articulation of new perspectives extremely difficult.

BRENDAN O BUACHALLA: a further element was introduced into this controversy by the publication by Brendan Ó Buachalla of his article on the Gaelic poets’ reception of James I. O’Buachalla has no difficulty in showing that the poets were effusive in their welcome for one who would shortly be the author of the plantation of Ulster … [but] he sees as significant the emergence of a strong religious motif within the poetry and prose of the period. For O’Buachalla, his study of the Gaelic potry and prose reveals the close identification of the fate of Ireland with the fate of Catholicism, but his final verdict is that the ultimate response of the Gaelic world to the disaster which befell it was a resigned fatalism.

NICHOLAS CANNY: Nicholas Canny has argued that his study of the Gaelic poetry and prose of the period has convinced his that under the impact of conquest and colonisation there was a significant shift in the Gaelic mentalité. Canny argues that while in the 16th c. the Gaelic outlook was very narrow and centred on local affairs, with a corresponding lack of a sense of change or even of historical periodisation, in the 17th c., especially under the impact of the Counter reformation, this all changed. Not only was the irish conflict regarded as a religious one, but the Gaelic outlook became modernised and politically sophisticated. The Gael now recognised that decisions made in London had an impact on their local areas in Irland; that there was a continental aspect ot the struggle in Ireland; and that, essentially, secular affairs were susceptible to human control after all.

MICHELLE O’RIORDAN: … Dr O’Riordan argues for a new approach … deliberately eschews the vantage of hindsight … pronounces as misguided the attempt to find a Gaelic ‘response’ to ‘conquest’ … Bardic poetry was not concerned with the here and now, nor with events nor with chronology: the ‘conquest’ made little impact on the Gaelic mentality … Bardic poetry governed by its own laws … its themese not so much time-honoured as timeless; and it did not undergo significant change in 400 years. … Similarly writers who have pointed out the ‘new’ religious ormotif in the 17th c. as evidence of a ‘new’ religious or political conscience at work, have missed the point that this theme was a traditional one: that those poets who wrote in praise of the papal nuncio, Rinucinni, in the 1640s merely regarded him as ‘a sept allegiance substitute’ rather than as the spearhead of the counter-reformation. To the end the poets remained heedless of their fate, their poetry reflecting their timeless concerns about the ongoing vicissitudes in the everyday life of Banbha.

Bartlett comments: O’Riordan generally ignores the non-poetic literature of the period—the annals, the prose and pious works—bardic poetry is not after all the sum of Gaelic literature. O’Riordan’s dismissal of the religious motifi in 17th c. poetry is more ingenious than convincing. some of the bardic poets were Catholic prists, trained in the rhetoric of the Counter Reformation.

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