Jan 28, 2011


An ollam is a highly respected poet in the order of Irish druids. Ollam is the highest of seven ranks of the filid (traditional order of poets.)

To become an ollam poet, one had to study for many years, and all learning was auditory, nothing was written down. An ollam was the master of 350 oral tales, not counting those he or she created. An ollam could work a spell that unlocked understanding, had the poetic ability to prophesy, and could improvise in verse.

An ollam was equal in rank to many kings and bishops and traveled with with a retinue. But because he was so honored in the ancient Irish culture, he was protected just by his use of satire, which folks, even kings, feared.

An ollam also held the knowledge of genealogy, which was very valuable since family trees and birthrights were not written down. As a result, ollams were usually needed at a new king's inauguration, where he would not only recite the genealogy, but also tales of praise for the new king.

Ollams existed in Ireland until the end of the sixteenth century and as you can imagine, their influence was political and widespread. In earlier times these filids (not sure if that's the plural form) had so much power that they were becoming a nuisance. With their great traveling band they could approach anyone and demand food and lodging with the threat of satire if they were not catered to. This became a great burden to the minor kings who did not hold great wealth, but who were obligated to host the filid and his party for as long as the filid wanted. The filid were about to be banned when St. Columba (a poet as well) temporarily put aside his banishment to Iona and came to Ireland to argue on their behalf. As a result these poets were not banned, but operated from then on within boundaries.

This stirs up all kinds of fiction ideas in my head! :)


  1. Way interesting! So did this "tradition" somehow morph into the tradition of the seanachie? (Not sure of spelling.) Because it seems like the Ollam could have been the precusor to the traveling storyteller.
    Glad you're doing all this research!

  2. You could say that, Jamie. The Irish have always been storytellers. The Ollam had to be quite a storyteller to use satire like that.