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ollam


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A master or person holding the highest rank of any skill; in early Irish literature an ollam is usually an esteemed poet, the highest of the seven ranks of fili. Before becoming an ollam, a candidate was required to train for twelve years and to master 350 tales. He had to be proficient in the forms of divination known as imbas forosnai, díchetal do chennaib, and teinm laída. A retinue of twenty-four men followed the ollam when he travelled, and he could always expect to received the hospitality of the host; in law his rank was equal to that of a petty king, and the calling to the vocation was usually a family tradition. An even better protection than the law was his power of satire. As a part of the king's court, the ollam might combine the functions of poet, story-teller, and historian, including an accurate recitation of genealogies. By the first-hand testimony of Oxford antiquarian William Camden, the institution of the ollam survived up to the end of the 16th century. An equivalent rank in early Welsh tradition may be that of the pencerdd.

See P. A. Breatnach, ‘The Chief's Poet’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, 83 (1983), 37–79;Liam Breatnach, Uraiceacht na Riar: The Poetic Grades in Early Irish Law (Dublin, 1987).

Subjects: Religion.


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