This section is from the book "Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, And Superstitions Of Ireland", by Jane Francesca Wilde. Also available from Amazon: Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, And Superstitions Of Ireland.
The number of companions with whom St. Patrick travelled through the country was seven score and ten, and before his time only three classes of persons were allowed to speak in public in Erin-the chronicler, to relate events ; the poet, to eulogize and satirize ; and the Brehon, to pass j udgment according to the law. But after St. Patrick's arrival every utterance of the three professions was subject to " the men of the white language "-that is, the Gospel-and only such utterances were allowed as did not clash with the Gospel.
In ancient Pagan times in Ireland the poets were supposed to possess the gift of prophecy, and by certain means could throw themselves into a state in which they had lucid vision of coming events. This state, called lmeas for Osna, was produced by incantations and the offering of the flesh of a red pig, á dog, or a cat to their idols. Then the poet, laying the two palms of his hands on bis two cheeks, lay down and slept; his idol gods being beside him. And when he awoke he could see all things and foretell all things. He could make verses with the ends of his fingers, and repeat the same without studying, and in this way proved his right to be chief poet at the court of the king. Also he laid his staff upon the head of a person, and thus he found out his name, and the name of his father and mother, and all unknown things that were proposed to him. And this prophetic power was also obtained by Imbas for Osna, though a different kind of offering was made to the idol.
But Patrick abolished these practices, and declared that whoever used them should enjoy neither heaven nor earth ; and he substituted for them the Corus Cerda (the Law of Poetry), in which no offerings were made to demons ; for the profession of the poet, he said, was pure, and should not be subject to the power of the devil. He left to the poets, however, the gift of extemporaneous recital, because it was acquired through great knowledge and diligent study, but all other rites he strictly forbade to the poets of Erin.
As a proof of the magnetic, lucid vision obtained by the great ollamhs of poetry, it is recorded of the blind poet, Louad Dall, that his attendants having brought him the skull of an animal found upon the strand, they asked him to declare its history. And thereupon placing the end of his wand upon the skull, he beheld with the inner vision, and said-
" The tempestuous waters have destroyed Breccan, and this is the skull of his lapdog ; and but little of greatness now remains, for Breccan and his people have perished in the waves."
And this was " divination by the staff "-a power possessed only by the chief poets, and by none else.
The story of Breccan is related in Cormac's Glossary. He was a merchant who traded between Ireland and Scotland with fifty corracles. Now there was a great whirlpool at Rathlin Island caused by the meeting of the seas, and they formed a caldron vast enough to swallow all Ireland. And it happened on a time that Breccan and all his corracles were lost and engulfed in this caldron. Not a man was left to tell the tale of how or where they had perished. Thus it was that the skull of a small animal being discovered on the beach, it was brought to the blind poet, who laying his staff on it obtained the inner vision by which he revealed the fate of Breccan and his fifty corracles.
Now St. Patrick left the poets all their rights of divination by wisdom, and all their ancient rights over story-telling with the music of the harp, three hundred and fifty stories being allowed to the chief poet. He also secured just judgments for their professional rights; so that if land was mentioned in their songs as having been walled and trenched by them, that was considered to be sufficient legal evidence of title to the soil.
But what they received of St. Patrick was better.he affirmed, than all the evil rites to devils which they had abandoned ; along with the profane practice of magic by the two palms, called Imbas for Osna, by which lucid vision and the spirit of prophecy was supposed to come on them after invocations to idols and demons-all which evil practices St. Patrick abolished, but left to the poets the skilled hand in music and the fluent tongue in recitation ; for which none can equal the Bards of Ireland throughout all the world.
The ogham writing on the poet's staff is mentioned in very old manuscripts as in use in the Pagan period, before St Patrick's time, though no specimen of ogham writing has yet been found of earlier date than the Christian era.
St. Patrick introduced Latin and the Latin letters, which superseded ogham. And after his time Latin was taught very generally in the Irish schools.
St. Patrick also confirmed as right and proper for observance, whatever was just in the Brehon laws, so as it was not at variance with the law of Christ, for the people had been guided by the Brehon laws from all antiquity, and it was not easy to overthrow them. Besides, many or most of them were framed with strict regard to justice and morality.
When St. Patrick was dying, an angel of the Lord was sent to him, who announced to the great and holy saint that God had granted this favour to his prayers-namely, that his jurisdiction over the Church was ordained to be for ever at Armagh ; and that Patrick, as the Apostle of Ireland, should be the judge of all the Irish at the last day, and none other, according to the promise made to the other apostles, " Ye shall sit upon twelve thrones judging the tribes of Israel."