THE HONOURED POSITION of the poets in early Irish society was partially based on an almost universal fear of their power to satirize. Satire, therefore, was often formalized as part of the poet’s repertoire and followed certain conventions. This paper deals with some of these conventions, especially the characterization of victims as animals. This was probably an extension of the power of words over animals and other natural phenomena.
The question of the survival of the practice of satire in the post-classical period (after c. 1600) is studied using examples composed in South-East Ulster in the mid-eighteenth century. Two satires by Peadar Ó Doirnín and one by Séamas Dali Mac Cuarta are contrasted. Finally, verses by Art Mac Cumhaigh in which he solemnly curses a disease in cattle (an conach = murrain) currently sweeping his area are compared to a poem from the classical period in the Book of the Dean of Lismore in which a plague of wolves is similarly execrated. It is suggested that these poets were aware of the tradition of satire and that they consciously echo their predecessors in both form and spirit.