Royal patronage

While the earliest Irish poems were concerned with mythology and the gods, later works reflected the natural world, and the Irish kings whose patronage the bards enjoyed. Works included the commemoration of a succession of the kings of Munster and Dal Riada, providing a vital source of information on early Irish kingship.

Nature and being wedded to nature was a common theme in early Irish poetry, as noted by the literary historian Kuno Meyer:

"In nature poetry the Gaelic muse must vie with that of any other nation... to seek out ami watch and love nature in its tiniest and in its grandest was given to no people so early and so fully as to the Celt... it is a characteristic of these poems

Fragments of Celtic poetry exist, the literary forerunner to the great narrative works produced by the medieval Celtic church. These provide a fascinating insight into the Celtic mind, and their subtleties reflect the interwoven complexity of the late Celtic arts. Tales of the natural world, kings, gods, and mythical animals combine to produce a narrative of Celtic thought and contemporary society.

that in none of them do we get an elaborate or sustained description of any scene or scenery, but rather a succession of pictures and images, which the poet, like an impressionist, calls up before us by light and skilful touches. "

Irish poetry covered every topic imaginable, including the experiences of the common people who inhabited the late Celtic world. While these poems remain an important source for the feelings of the Celts, and provide us with a series of insights into the world that surrounded them, they do little to help us fill in the gaps in Celtic history created by the lack of a written tradition. For this, we have to look to Irish and Welsh prose, a source of narrative descriptions that are unique in the history of the early medieval world.

This literature usually comprised of vellum manuscripts, produced from the end of the eleventh century onward. Consequently it is not the product of true Celtic times but of medieval Celtic Ireland. Nevertheless, even the most cursory study of these documents reveals that they contain a wealth of information about the late Celtic world that is most probably applicable to that earlier pre-literate Celtic era.

Facing: Carolingian ivory panel with the Miracle of Cana (c.ad 860). The lively style and setting of this panel, which once decorated the cover of a gospel, derives from narrative illuminated Celtic manuscript style that Celtic Ireland and Britain exported to continental Europe in the early medieval era.

This page: "...to seek out and watch and love nature in its tiniest and in its grandest was given to no people so early and so fully as to the Celt..."

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