Reasoning the rhyme: The encoding of complex early Irish Poetry.

Mavis H. Cournane
Donnchadh Ó Corráin

The European Foundation
Wyattville Rd
Dublin, Dublin


Poetry was the most significant literary genre in early medieval Ireland. Medieval Irish verse is composed in accordance with strict metrical rules laid down by influential schools of poetry. These rules are prescribed in medieval handbooks of metrics that were used in the schools to train poets in the intricate rules of Irish metrics. Detailed rules in normative text were prescribed for metre, alliteration, and rhyme. The encoding of the metrical features of Irish verse will serve a variety of the following ends:

The encoding mechanism chosen has to satisfy a number of intellectual requirements:


The metrical features covered in this discussion are:

To satisfy encoding requirements a the single element (<seg>) with carefully arranged attributes is used to encode all the necessary features. However, this is laborious and time consuming and a question about this method is--is the end result commensurate with the effort? This is difficult to answer but non-computer analysis is at least as time consuming, probably less productive in results and, further, the data so generated are not readily exchangeable.


An encoding scheme such as that offered by the TEI currently allows for the encoding of the complexities of Irish poetry in a very generic way using the <seg> element and the refining attributes of type and subtype. However, markup for markup's sake is not an end in itself---the encoding must serve some useful purpose. As demonstrated above, encoding in TEI is useful for making the workings of early Irish metrics more transparent for the student and serves as a useful pedagogical tool for the teacher of this subject. Ongoing research on this paper will attempt to identify the depth of markup needed to do a more complete statistical analysis of metrics in early Irish verse and will suggests ways in which the TEI may be extended to meet the demands of such analysis.


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