Bard Of Armagh 2010

Watch video from the festival of humorous verse, featuring four-time winner Jimmy Rafferty and more

‘We’re sold out,’ organiser John Makem told CultureNorthernIreland a week before the Bard of Armagh Festival of Humorous Verse at the Armagh Hotel. ‘All 1,000 tickets gone. But we could have sold four times that many.’ Which is proof, if proof were needed, of the enduring popularity of rhyming in Northern Ireland today.

Many writers took to the stage on the night of the competition - male and female, young and old - rhyming about all kinds of topics, from the credit crunch to the royal family via Portrush golf course. In the end, however, veteran Jimmy Rafferty was once again crowned Bard of Armagh for an unprecedented fourth time.

Rafferty took to the lecturn to a chorus of 'Good Queen Bess' dressed in regal attire to suit his winning poem, ‘Her Majesty’s Pleasure’. He narrowly pipped fierce rival Liam McNally in the closest contest for years.



Through myths, legends, tales, parables, poetry and song the Celtic bards, like the Anglo Saxon gleemen, the Norse Skalds and the Japanese Zenza were revered members of society who kept epic poems, traditions and mysteries alive for the people. At banquets and major functions the bard sat next to the king and was served immediately.

'The bardic tradition is probably one of the oldest art forms that we have,' said Makem. 'It dates back to medieval times, when the bard was a central figure [in society]. Then, in the 1600s, bards were ostracised and had to go underground. But the power of the bard remained, and every so often bards would reappear, maybe sitting around the fireside, and this wonderful energy would re-emerge.'

Today’s Bard of Armagh competition creates a platform for versifiers to unleash their creative energies to a packed and appreciative audience. Entries should be at least 200 words in length, should not exceed ten minutes performance time and should be suitable for family audiences and radio broadcast.

Newcomer Colleen Downham took the inaugural Rosemary Twohig trophy with a superb performance ‘Lady GAA GAA’, whilst 80-year old Donal McKenna’s produced what was generally considered to be his best verse yet, ‘Cock a Doodle Do’. Watch the video above for more performances from the 2010 competition.