Honours and Rewards for Learning

From A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland 1906

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CHAPTER VII....continued

6. Honours and Rewards for Learning.

In many other ways besides those indicated in the preceding section, the people, both high and low, manifested their admiration for learning, and their readiness to reward its professors. From the period of myth and romance down to recent times, we trace a succession of learned men in all the professions, to whom the Irish annals accord as honoured places as they do to kings and warriors. An ollave sat next the king at table: he was privileged to wear the same number of colours in his clothes as the king and queen, namely, six, while all other ranks had fewer. The same compensation for injury was allowed for a king, a bishop, and an ollave poet: and they had the same joint at dinner, namely, the larac or haunch. We have seen that a king kept at his court an ollave of each profession, who held a very high position, and had ample stipends: and once a family was selected to supply ollaves to the king they were freed from the customary tribute. This veneration for poets and other learned men remained down to a late period, unaffected by wars and troubles. We read of great banquets got up on several occasions to honour the whole body of men of learning, to which all the professional men within reach, both in Ireland and Scotland, were invited. Several such banquets are commemorated in our records, and some were on a vast scale, and lasted for many days.

But all this respect for the poet was conditional on his observance of the rules of his order, one of which was to maintain a high personal character for dignity and integrity. The Senchus Mór lays down that a fraudulent poet may be degraded, i.e. a poet who mixes up falsehood with his compositions, or who composes an unlawful satire, or who demands more than his due reward.

The Anglo-Norman lords, after they had settled down in Ireland, became as zealous encouragers of Gaelic learning as the native nobility. They kept moreover in their service ollaves of every profession, brehons, physicians, etc., and remunerated them in princely style like the native chiefs; and they often founded or endowed colleges.

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