What is Ae Freislighe?

An examination of the history, form and use of Ae Freislighe, an ancient style of Irish poetry.

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Ae Freislighe is an Irish form of poetry—a family of poetic types rooted in the history of Ireland.


Until the 5th Century, the only written form of Irish was Ogham, and the alphabet was mostly known from gravestones. Because of this, it can be hard to trace the history of Irish poetry as much of it was passed orally. As with Welsh poets, a bard would undergo a lengthy apprenticeship that tested memory and knowledge of form before being granted the title of ‘Bard.’ Originally, poets enjoyed the title of either ‘Bard’ or ‘File,’ with a distinction in rank, but gradually this difference eroded.

With the invasion of Christianity came the written word, and though this is useful for our record-keeping, the imposition of colonial language and poetic forms had detrimental effects on much of the indigenous poetry of the British Isles. This led to destruction of Cornish and Manx poetry, but little effect on the Irish and Welsh, though we can assume within the cultures an influence of Cornish and Manx writing remained, along with Viking and Phoenician traces, brought over by traders.

Praise poetry was common amongst the Irish pagans, and Bards enjoyed an almost priestly status. Poets were believed to have certain powers cultivated through their rigorous practice. Satire was greatly feared as it was believed to be able to destroy its subject, and Bards were also thought to be able to remove mice from an area.

Irish poetry is the oldest known vernacular poetry, which was written in the language of common-folk, with examples remaining from as far back as the 6th Century, written in the margins of illuminated manuscripts copied by scribes. Other poems were commissioned praise pieces based on families in order to remember ancestors and past triumph.


As Irish Poetry emerged from a culture that did not use the written word, a lot of its structures are designed to be easy to remember, with an emphasis placed on rhythmic devices. Many Irish poets wrote short verses, in order for them to be easily remembered.

The Ae Freislighe (literally “lying down poetry”) is one of the most common forms of Irish verse, and is perhaps the easiest to demonstrate.

There are a few rules for an Ae Freislighe. Firstly, there are four lines to each stanza, with seven syllables in each line. Lines 1 and 3 employ a three syllable end-rhyme, while lines 2 and 4 use a two syllable end-rhyme. A unique element of Ae Freislighe is that the final syllable of the poem should be the same as the very first syllable. It is important to note that this does not mean the end of the stanza (unless the poem is only one stanza long). It is a bookending, at both the start and finish. Once the poet is comfortable with the structure, one should begin to add alliteration. Each line of an Ae Freislighe should feature two words that begin with the same sound.


The Ae Freislighe is a form that is easy to use but difficult to master. It works especially well for poets who are beginning to explore rhyme, as it relies on more complex rhyming than many of us are used to. Instead of focusing on the end syllable, the search for perfect full-word rhymes continues to tax even experienced writers.

As with most Irish poetry, Ae Freislighe are brilliant for quietly reflecting on nature, and reward harmony in each line. I find them relaxing; embracing the moment through simple, everyday language.

Connor Sansby is a Margate-based writer, editor, poet and publisher through his super-indie Whisky & Beards publishing label.

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