Irish Manuscripts: Uraicecht Becc – The Short Primer

Uraicecht Becc – The Short Primer

This poetic manuscript declares the King of Munster to be be supreme and makes reference to monastries in Emly and Cork; both counties of that province. For this reason it is believed to be of Munster origin.

It has been argued by D.A. Binchy to have been an extension of the Bretha Nemed (the Judgements of the Privileged Classes) due to the similar subject matter and style of writing used.

Though it is called the 'Short Primer' the text stands out among other texts on status due to its wider scope. Where other status texts tend to narrow their focus on certain professions or sectors of society, such as the Bretha Nemed's focus on the upper privileged classes, the Uraicecht Becc covered most lay proffessions from Kings to Smiths,

It first divides society into the ‘free-privileged’ and ‘free-base’ classes. Of the former it lists scholars, clergy, nobles, and poets. Of the latter it lists smiths, braziers, chariot-makers, furniture-makers, weapon-makers, artisans, and other skilled professions.

It further lists the corresponding honour prices which were varied according to the importance given to the profession and the level of skill possessed by the worker in their craft. In fact, by looking at the amounts of compensation and remuneration paid to the varying grades we get an obvious indicator of the importance society had for each of the varying positions. Its main focus, however, deals with the profession of the Filíd or Poets (also known as Bards). The Uraicececht Becc divides these into seven different grades according to the level of skill, training, and ancestry of the individual filíd.

If an individual was more skilled, or if they were more highly qualified, they became naturally more valuable to society and vice-versa, for, as one line of the tract reads:

Nadbi cainfoltach nibi cainfuillmech,

He who is not well qualified is not well remunerated.

Another Maxim states:

Bes Ildánach bid Ildírech

Whoever is highly skilled is highly valued.

You might also like:

  • Irish Manuscripts: Bretha Nemed –The Judgements of the Privileged Classes

  • Other Articles from our Irish Manuscripts Series

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