Historical Background

Part 1: Irish Poetry Forms
Ae freslighe
Rannaicheacht Bheag
Rannaicheacht Ghairid
Rannaicheacht Mhor
Rionnaird tri-nard


Just because they are old forms of poetry, do not be mislead into believing they are easy. On the contrary, some of the forms may be relatively easy, but some are as complex and as challenging as the Sestina or Villanelle, and some even more so.

One point must be emphasised, the bard served a hard and difficult apprenticeship where memory and accuracy of story and form was constantly being tested. These poets were imaginative, intelligent as well as gifted. They did have one advantage however and that is of the spoken language. The language they spoke lent itself to natural rhythm and rhyme and possibly alliteration and consonance.

When the Christians invaded the British Isles they also introduced the written word and also a corruption of indigenous forms by the introduction of their foreign forms, but at least some of the forms managed to survive because of them being eventually written down. It appears that the Manx Bardic poetry and that of Cornwall completely disappeared if indeed it ever existed. It might be safe to assume that they were in turn influenced by the Irish or Welsh.

The Viking invaders and Phoenician traders also influenced the Celts at point of contact. The influence of the Anglo-Saxon invaders had little effect on the Welsh and Irish and consequently the Scots who were influenced by the Irish.

When I first started researching these poetry forms I contacted Lewis Turco about his research and we came to agreement that as we were both away from point of contact about these poetic forms and perhaps by opening it up in an Internet Poetry Forum it would be possible for expert individuals to have a welcome input into the subject. Most of the forms used here are from Lewis Turco's latest book of forms and he assures me he is as hungry for further information about these forms as I am, in particular Cornish and Manx.

Historical Background

The high status of poets within Celtic societies is well attested and was maintained down to the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries. In Gaelic societies the name for a poet, file (or filid - plural), is derived from a root word meaning "to see". Celtic poets may be better known as bards and though the Irish and Scottish peoples poets also came to be known as either file or bard, originally there was a distinction in rank between the two with the hereditary file having the higher status and greater training.

Literature and folklore taught that the poet had to have certain intrinsic, inborn skills as well as the intensive and lengthy training which would then be given. Poets were expected to develop a knowledge of a huge number of traditional stories, of poetry and legal matters as well as the skills to create his or her own poetry, and yet the basic inspiration could be gifted from otherworld sources.

Praise poetry was a common and valued practice by the poets and there were various metres used, e.g. dán díreach ("straight or strict verse"). However there were certain, almost supernatural, powers also expected of the Gaelic poets. Satire, not to be confused with the modern form of humour which carries the same name, was a poetic practise greatly feared and the Old Irish laws said some forms of satire had magical power. This poetry was to ridicule or shame, if not destroy, its' subject (such as a mean chieftain). It is also believed that Poets had the ability to get rid of pests such as mice.

The classical commentator Diodorus Siculus talks of Celtic poets singing to instruments, like lyres, the verses were given to musical accompaniment. However, the file was not the harpist (Cruitiné) - they were separate trades.

Source Gaelic Poetry Page.


Note: Until the 5th Century the only written form of Irish was Ogham which was used solely for carving into trees and gravestones. As a result Gaelic Poetry was based on sound structures to make them easy to remember, with rhyme not as important as repetition, alliteration and rhythm.

It is important to remember that Irish poetry is cyclic and the last line should end with the first syllable word or the complete line.

Ae freslighe: (ay fresh lee):

Each stanza is a quatrain of seven syllables. Lines one and three rhyme with a triple (three syllable) rhyme and two and four use a double (two syllable) rhyme. As was stated earlier. the poem should end with the first syllable word or the complete line that it began with.

x x x x (x x a)
x x x x x (x b)
x x x x (x x a)
x x x x x (x b)


Undressed trees stand shivering
as flimsy shifts blew away;
the last leaves are quivering,
till they too will drop, decay.

Under bark's rough covering
grow tiny cells in wonder-
blooms to be, still hovering,
kept safe from autumn's thunder.

Dreams of spring are flowering
in darkened night's soft caress;
lovers cuddle, showering
moist kisses on skin, undressed.

Leny Roovers 20-10-2004

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Each stanza is a quatrain of seven syllables. Lines two and four rhyme and lines one and three consonate with them. There are at least two cross-rhymes* in each couplet. In the first couplet, this isn't necessarily exact. The final syllable of line four alliterates* with the preceding stressed word.

x x b x (x x ac)
x a x x x (x bc)
x x x b (x x dc)
x x c x x (x bc)

Dying II

In death comes dust's solution.
A truth to breath inclusion;
small particles' pollution
in loss of cause collusion.

Thin dry threads still intertwine,
fill failing eyes unconfined;
as whispered wings recombine
the swirling realms reassign.

©Leny Roovers 05-10-2004

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Each stanza is a quatrain of seven syllables. Light rhyming in couplets. Alliteration between two words in each line, the final word of line four alliterating with the preceding stressed word. There are at least two cross-rhymes between three and four.

B x x x x x a'
x x x x x x' a
x b x x x x b'
xx x b x x' B


Let's fly, my falcon, be free;
merged in our minds completely,
we’ll find the prey, dive to feed-
senses reel- primed, pedigreed.

Seeing through your sharper eyes,
no hare escapes we're allies.
Warm blood flows fast in the kill,
till floods slow and drip downhill.

Leny Roovers 15-10-2004

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Droighneach (dra'iy-nach):

A loose stanza form. Each line can have from nine to thirteen syllables, and it always ends in a trisyllabic word. There is rhyming between lines one and three, two and four, etc. Stanzas can have any number of quatrains. There are at least two cross-rhymes in each couplet and alliteration in each line; usually the final word of the line alliterates with the preceding stressed word, and this is always true of the last line.

x x d b x x x (x x a)
x x x x a x x x (x x b)
x x x x x b (x x a)
x x x x a x x (x x b)

x x x x x d x x (x x c)
x x x c x x x x x x (x x d)
x x d x x x x x x (x x c)
x x x x c x (x x d)

Silken Lady

A silken coat enhances her elegance,
casually clad, but warm and enfolding
her slim limbs in folds of furry fragrance;
green eyes gaze haughtily- a heart beholding.

She licks her lips, a pink tongue seen- disappears;
a lazy yawn, with blinking eyes, amazes,
her devoted audience she domineers.
A soft scream- hairs on end- her purr appraises.

Leny Roovers 29-10-2004

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Rannaicheacht Bheag (ron-a'yach viog):

Similar to Rannaicheacht Mhor except lines one and three have eight syllables and two and four have six syllables.

C x x x b x a c
x x a x b c
x b x x x x a c
x a x x b C


Purring came from the kitten
smitten, no whisker stirring,
sounding sleep on the cushion,
paws pushing for the purring.

Jan Haag....7-21-98

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Rannaicheacht Ghairid (ron-a'yach cha'r-rid):

A quatrain stanza with uneven lines. The first line has three syllables, the other three have seven. The stanza rhymes a a b a, with a cross-rhyme between three and four.

A x a
x x x x x x a
x x x x x x b
x x x x x x A

Fatal attraction

Spider's throne;
myriads of sparkling stones
Dawn generously spread out,
call each scout to deadly zones.

Come, she sings,
fly on your gossamer wings;
in my lair I will keep close,
who once rose- caught in my strings.

Fight no more,
surrender your very core
to the Oneness of the Web-
flood and ebb in full rapport.

I have thrown
my glittering net to drones;
be the feed I'm thriving on-
you've won to share Spider's throne.

Leny Roovers 19-9-2004

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Rannaicheacht Mhor (ron-a'yach voor):

A quatrain stanza of heptasyllabic lines consonating abab. There are at least two cross-rhymes in each couplet and the final word of line three rhymes with a word in the interior of line four. In the second couplet, the rhymes must be exact, but the first couplet need only consonate.

B C x x b x a c
x x x a x x b c
x b x x x x a c
x x a x x x B C


Rows of chairs in restless lines;
air still echoes poet's rhymes,
not yet flown from emptied halls;
footsteps falter, crumble, crawl.

Eerie voices linger, last;
final choices, feared, now lost.
Devastation drains- renew
still bodies strewn- knotted knees

Leny Roovers 03-01-2005

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Rionnaird Tri-Nard (ru'n-ard tree-nard ):

a quatrain stanza of hexasyllabic lines with disyllabic endings. Lines two and four rhyme, and three consonates with them. There are two cross rhymes in the second couplet, none in the first. There is alliteration in each line, and the last syllable of line one alliterates with the first accented word of line two. There are two cross-rhymes in the second couplet.

x x x x (x a)
x x x x (x bc)
x b x x (x c)
x x c x (x bc)


Free me from these fetters,
find the key to tackle
blasted belts and buckles-
Shadow master's shackled.

Stop the blood still fleeing
from festered wounds' fire;
burn of bite-mark's crying,
in rite of spurned sire.

Seed is sown in vessels,
vied in vain on betters;
let go of life's matters-
thrive and throw off fetters.

Leny Roovers 26-9-2004

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Seadna (shay'-na):

A quatrain stanza of alternating octosyllabic lines with disyllabic endings and heptasyllabic lines with monosyllabic endings. Lines two and four rhyme, line three rhymes with the stressed word preceding the final word of line four. There are two cross-rhymes in the second couplet. There is alliteration in each line, the final word of line four alliterating with the preceding stressed word. The final syllable of line one alliterates with the first stressed word of line two.

B x x x x x (x a)
x x x x x x b
x x x x c x (x c)
x b x c x x B

Caring for the watercolor
I find you looking at me there
Blush to white palor, dim valor,
Thus, where its blue core had found care.

Kathy Anderson

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Sneadhbhairdne (sna-vuy-erd-ne):

A quatrain stanza of alternating eight syllable lines and four syllable lines with two syllable endings. Lines two and four rhyme, line three consonates with both. All words in the final line must rhyme line, the final word of line four alliterating with the preceding stressed word.

(x B) x x x x (x a)
x x (x b)
x x x x x (b c)
b b (x B)

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The Rule of Three

When I consider these things three,
I may never then be blithe be:
The first is that I shall away;
The second, I know not which day;
The third fills me with my most care-
I know not whither I shall fare!

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Any Comments or Suggestions, please email me

Celtic Poetry Part 2. Welsh Forms
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