Ai | Irish Poetic Inspiration

A well known Irish verse

A well known Irish verse

When I write my humble little word-strings,all I think of is the message I wish to convey, the words which I use as vehicles, and how it sounds/ looks to me. I can get away with that, because this is the modern age, the digital age, and I have the power to be anything I want to be. There really isn’t a right or wrong.

But that’s not how it used to be.

In the old days, the Irish poet could only compose a poem in the dark whilst lying down. He/ she had to train for a very long time, and I’m talking decades here. Each poem must consist of quatrains (4 line verses) called rann, divided into two parts called leathrann. Whatever sound, syllable or line a poem began with, it must end with the same. This is called dúnadh (closing).

These are but a few of the set of rules known as the Dan Direach, meaning Straight/Direct/Righteous Verse). It was a style of poetry developed in Ireland from the 12th century, but I believe was based on something far more ancient, as it was designed to be chanted to the accompaniment of a harp. As we know, this oral tradition stretches far back into Irish pre-history.The reciter was called a reacaire, but I prefer another term, the ormarcach duaine, or poem rider… isn’t that just so cool?

But what of the inspiration?

Perhaps it’s better known in its Welsh guise; awen comes from the Indo-European root ‘uel’, meaning ‘to blow’, and has the same root as the Welsh word awel meaning ‘breeze’. In Irish, ai, also means ‘poetic inspiration’, and apparently comes from the exact same ancient root.

Even more intriguing, is that ai is not just a random word in Irish mythology, but also a person.

Ai Mac Ollamain was a Tuatha de Denann god of poetry. When he was born, his family’s house was rocked by such violent winds, that the Filidh present predicted he would become a great and powerful man. Hearing this, the local chieftain was filled with fear, and demanded the baby’s death, but the child’s father, Ollamain, pleaded for his life and saved him.

Ai grew up to become a famous Filidh. So great were his powers, that in later years, when Carman the Celtic Witch attacked Ireland with her three evil sons, Ai was called upon along with three of the most powerful Denann sorcerers and Druids, Crichinbel, Lugh and Bé Chuille, to challenge the intruders. Carman was captured and imprisoned, whilst her sons were banished never to return.

It is fitting that in tribute to his powers as a great filidh, the very word given to describe poetic inspiration is the same as his name. In a sense, then, Ai can never be forgotten, although his legend has disappeared into the ether, along with so many others.

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7 Comments on “Ai | Irish Poetic Inspiration

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    • Yes I think they took their poetry and storytelling very seriously indeed! Poets were thougbt to have the power of magic… it was believed if you offended a fili he could cause boils to errupt on your face with the magic of his sattire!!!


  4. Wow, I did not know anything about Ai, thanks for sharing that! It means a lot to me that there is an Irish story of the person who received the whole of the inspiration of ai, in addition to the more well-known Welsh one of awen. Many of the bardic teachings in the tradition of druidry I belong to are centered around the cultivation of awen and the tale of Taliesin. The story contains many spiritual and psychological mysteries. During our rituals we often chant awen. I along with many druids I know have a pendant with the awen symbol, a circle with three lines inscribed in it. The lines look like this /|\


    • Cool! Maybe you can change your awen chants to Ai… that might be interesting! He was obviously someone very important back in the day, if he joined Lugh and the others against Carman. I wonder why his legend is lost? I couldnt find out much about him on the internet.


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